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Male military sex assault victims slow to complain

December 8, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sexual assaults on men in the U.S. military happen more often than people might think, but few soldiers willing to report it and talk about it openly.

According to an anonymous survey released last week by the Pentagon, nearly 1 percent of males in the U.S. military said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, compared to 4.3 percent of women. That equates to about 10,500 men and 8,500 women. Yet only 14 percent of assaults reported last year involved male victims.

Afraid to be seen as victims or as weak or gay, men in the hyper-masculine military culture often don’t feel comfortable reaching out for help or reporting sexual assaults. Over the past year, though, the services have increased efforts to reach out to male victims, urging them to come forward so they can receive treatment and so officials can go after perpetrators.

The campaign urges troops to intervene in potential assault situations, and not just when the victim is a woman. Troops are pressed to report any assault, even ones prior to their enlistment or that involve civilian attackers.

“The question is, ‘Is our population in the military ready to talk about this?’” says Nate Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office. “We want to get them there. But it’s going to be bit by bit. Because it’s very, very hard for people to think about someone who is a soldier and is strong” as a victim of sexual assault.

Military leaders turned for advice to Jim Hopper, a Harvard University expert on male sexual abuse.

“In our culture in general, to be sexually assaulted is completely the opposite of what men are supposed to experience,” he says, noting a common belief that, “men aren’t supposed to be sexually dominated, they’re not supposed to express vulnerable feelings.”

While people may question how a burly infantry officer or Marine could be assaulted, often he is drunk, passed out or asleep.

According to Hopper and other experts, sexual assault is more about power and control than sex, and has little to do with homosexual behavior. Aggressors almost always identify themselves as heterosexual, said Hopper.

In May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military services to increase their efforts to encourage men to report assaults. The services already had started putting together training materials aimed at male victims. Videos included scenarios of troops drinking and discussions about when to intervene and what to do if a perpetrator is of higher rank.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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