The Phenomenology of Military Sexual Trauma Among Male Veterans

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Abstract

Military sexual trauma (MST) has been studied extensively in women; however, knowledge regarding the ways in which men are affected by MST remains limited. The present study used a phenomenological approach to describe the lived experiences of men exposed to MST. Participants were 18 male veterans who experienced MST and completed semistructured qualitative interviews. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) was used to identify themes. Participants described disruptions to their sense of masculinity and questioned their sexuality following MST. They described altered attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to prevent revictimization, in addition to avoidant coping (e.g., substance use). Men described secrecy regarding MST, which was perceived to be deleterious over time. Disclosure of MST and the response to disclosure appeared to be pivotal: Negative reactions to disclosure were described as common and harmful; supportive reactions, though rare, seemed to facilitate recovery. Men expressed experiencing a sense of personal and institutional betrayal, in addition to becoming distrustful, hypervigilant, and disillusioned after experiencing MST. Struggles with intimacy, isolation, and relationship difficulties also ensued. These phenomenological findings illuminate the complex and varied ways in which male veterans appear to experience MST and its sequelae. Results highlight several potential avenues for further research and provide guidance for how clinicians and institutions can support male survivors of MST in their recovery.

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