Military sexual trauma (MST) is defined as sexual harassment and/or sexual trauma experienced during the course of military service. It includes uninvited or unwanted verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature, such as attention, verbal remarks, touching, sexual coercion, sexual assault, and rape. MST happens to both men and women, and can have mental and physical health consequences. However, little attention has been paid to the behavioral health consequences of MST, such as substance misuse. This study examined the prevalence of MST during deployment among male Reserve and National Guard soldiers, and the extent to which MST exposure during deployment was associated with frequent heavy drinking and alcohol problems post-deployment.
Researchers analyzed data for 248 previously deployed male soldiers who were recruited during a 15-month period (2014 – 2015) from units in New York State. The data were drawn from a larger longitudinal study called Operation: SAFETY, which examined health among U.S. Army Reserve/National Guard soldiers and their partners (n=411). Analyses controlled for posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and age.
MST rates were high (17.3%) among male Reserve and National Guard soldiers. Greater MST exposure was associated with a greater likelihood to engage in frequent heavy drinking and experience alcohol problems in a population that is already at risk for problematic alcohol use. These findings demonstrated that MST is a serious issue for men and underscore the need for more systematic screening of MST and problematic alcohol use among members of the Reserve and National Guard.