ACA Blog

Natosha Monroe
Apr 17, 2012

Sexual Assault and Rape in the Military: Are Survivors Being Treated Unethically?

According to StopMilitaryRape.org, a sexual assault or rape is reported as often as every four hours in the U.S. military. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta will feature a weekend report on sexual assault and rape allegations in the military. I was appalled (but not shocked) by what I read and heard in the online article, “Rape Victims Say Military Labels Them ‘Crazy.’” This article addresses the issue of how some survivors receive personality disorder diagnoses upon their report of a sexual assault or rape. I encourage you to read this article and to listen to the audio-recorded personal accounts of four military Service Women who experienced assault, rape, lack of support, and even a psychological diagnosis or military discharge: http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/14/health/military-sexual-assaults-personality-disorder/index.html?hpt=ju_t2

Unfortunately, I’m sure everyone is familiar with the presence of assault and rape within the U.S. military branches (and elsewhere in our society). You’ve probably also heard cases of how survivors are oftentimes mistreated by the military chain of command after the crime takes place. Sometimes a crime is “swept under the rug,” perpetrators are not held accountable whatsoever, and survivors face being called a liar or whore and may receive retaliation, punishment, or a lack of support or justice. However, what is NOT often discussed or scrutinized is the role of the military Behavioral Health Officer (psychological health care provider) once an assault or rape takes place.

The article I mentioned does just that. It addresses the military Behavioral Health Officer’s role in further exacerbating the effects of the trauma upon the survivor. Just as someone within the survivor’s chain of command can foster an environment conducive for predators, so can the unethical Behavioral Health Officer. Just as the unsupportive leader affects the survivor’s recovery from an incident, so does the unsupportive Behavioral Health Officer. In fact, it is sometimes the behavioral health care provider (which consists of every psychology-related profession EXCEPT licensed professional counselors and therapists, by the way—see my other blogs on that topic) who seals the fate for the Service Member who was assaulted or raped by ruining his/her career or making the traumatic experience worse.

Here are some direct quotes from the assault and rape survivors in the article (you can listen to their accounts by clicking on their photos):

“I met with the Coast Guard psychiatrist two times before he diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder. The first time I met him he told me to ignore what my shipmate did to me because according to him, “Sailors will be Sailors.” The second time…he told me because I still talked about my rape [and it was two months later so I should be over it]…he recommended me for a [military] discharge for Adjustment Disorder.”

“I did receive counseling. I went in and at first…[my counselor] was really nice...but then it came up that I had been assaulted.”

“I had suspicions of [the Behavioral Health Officer’s] confidentiality. I didn’t tell him that he could say anything, so I was really surprised when the command came back and said they were discharging me for certain things. The only way they could have known that was from him.”

“...I’d been dealing with my chain of command for 7 months after reporting the sexual assault and it had been pretty traumatic. At one point…I tried to commit suicide. I overdosed on the anti-depression meds that they had me on.”

Other psychology-related quotes from the CNN article:

“One Navy lieutenant commander lost her pension and was involuntarily separated…[when] the Navy gave her a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder after she reported being assaulted in the middle of the night in Afghanistan. She says no medical evaluation ever took place.”

“Rep Jackie Speier says the military has used personality and other psychiatric diagnoses “almost robotically” to force women who report sexual assaults out of the service.”

Former Marine company commander, Anu Bhagwati, has noticed a “pattern of the military using psychiatric diagnosis to get rid of women who report sexual assaults.”

“As for the personality and adjustment disorder discharges, the Pentagon tells CNN: “We encourage all separating Service Members who believe their discharges were incorrectly characterized or processed to request adjudication through their respective military department’s Discharge Review Board and Board for Correction of Military Records.”

What I see as the most common problem among military Behavioral Health Officers is the unethical lack of respect, regard, and client rights given to clients—especially the lower-ranking enlisted Troops. Confidentiality is a big issue—the BH Officer knows they are “allowed” to tell client matters to other people in the client’s chain of command so sometimes they do just that—without telling the client they are doing it! It is as if some officers know they can get away with doing/saying whatever they want about their client (which they almost always call “patient”) with no accountability. Diagnosing someone without telling them? Kicking them of the office with no explanation or referral? Speaking condescendingly to a client due to rank/position? Referring to themselves as “Counselors,” “Psychologists,” or “Doc” when in fact they are not that profession but are Social Workers? No discussion of treatment options other than “here’s a drug?” If they were in the civilian world, they could not get away with such things without facing the chance of losing their license.

Since some of you may be counselors who work with Service Members, I think it is important to consider what behavioral health care services, diagnoses, and medications the client may have received prior to showing up in your office. And if the client has a previous diagnosis or medication—don’t assume they are accurate! While this is always important, I can’t help but think there is a chance your military client may have experienced poor, brief, inaccurate, or “cookie-cutter” treatment if he/she has touched upon the military health care system.

While clearly there are many great, qualified Behavioral Health Officers in the military, it is important to also note the effects of the bad apples. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some of them first-hand who commit clear ethical violations and even instances where they backtrack and damage clients’ mental health. I bring this up to bring attention to the vital role of military Behavioral Health Officers to the welfare of Troops and especially survivors of crimes and to call for increased professional/ethical accountability. Military officers still must uphold ethical and professional standards and codes of their professions.

I also bring up this topic because oftentimes how a Service Member is treated while on a deployment (or in the service in general) can contribute to his or her “anger” or other behavioral issues. It is important to scratch beneath the surface of a routine assessment or session. Truly get to know each client and what they’ve experienced. It just might make all the difference in how you view a presenting issue or personality makeup—making you a more thorough and accurate professional.

References and Resources on this topic include:
Sanjay Gupta reports for CNN on this topic this week, Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22 at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time; April 14,2012 CNN article, “Rape victims say military labels them ‘crazy;’” Panayiota Bertzikis’s Military Rape Crisis Center; Bhagwati’s Service Women’s Action Network; Bertzikis’s blogs and websites, stopmilitaryrape.org and mydutytospeak.com; Military One Source phone number 800) 342-9647


Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.

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1 Comment

  1. 1 Rob 07 Sep
    Thanks Natasha. The same is with veterans physical medical and benefits blocked; which is crimes against humanity. The veteran scandal SCANDAL still goes on as the solution was to give mental funds and hire morepsych counselor, as ignore phys medical. Ones wereworseningand dying as blocked medical for physical medical necessities, still are and suicides still high. How many can endure the daily suffering of med necessity blocked, and no help, but ones trying to mental routed and give deficiency vs label the crime against humanitu of blocked med access. The illogic , unethical and inhumanity is disturbing and blatant as predominant.
    In college and grad; we were repeatedly drilled that trauma victims are not to be accessed as their reactions and responses to a critical event are NORMAL for surviving such horrid injustices. Blocked medical as hesrt, cancer, anything, worsens is a trauma abuse that a veteran, every moment, day, week, month, cannot escape. What next, bias, judge, deficiency, route mental the deer hit by a car? And on MEDICAID applications; front page asks if in a domestic violence relationship or rape victim, to ALSO route the victim to mental, blocking, delaying medical access for physical.
    And once a low income record had any mental on it, even anxiety as in physical critical in er, such as septic; every et and d visit with access to those records; trays the person as mental and delays access to physical diagnosis, labe, scan, treatment. What on earth is someone septic, for example, labelled with a mental deficiency in the ER? And, anxiety from.physical critical is an absolutely different anxiety, then mental anxieties; as anxiety from physical critical adverse medical such as septic or cardiac IS a common physiological response of any mammal to such physical emergencies. And, mass females are not being diagnosed with heart attacks, but anxiety, somatic, depressed etc, and even sent Hime, undiagnosed. The American Medical.Association has even had to finally, public address female heart attacks NOT being diGnosed; yet their guidelines es are still not adhered to. Would love to disseminate with yoi more. I really appreciate your above,necessary article and advocacy. Yes, disturbing, but not in expecting. The routing and stigma is habitual and systemic and blocks and delays medical and justice. Also, with Elrcyronic records and Obamacare, once the bias stigma is on the medical records; the person is Always at risk.of med care DELAYED or never given; for too many doctors instead on the feaud deficienc; as no psych assess.ent ever done and by all codes of ethics and conducts, to label or access ones in any severe trauma of abuse or disease emergency is absolutely UNNACEPTABLE as yet done, EVERY DAY IN systemic abuse, habit, patriarchy. I tell all, vet your full medical records, including doctor notes for I guarantee,ost records have those fraud discriminations. Just amazed how repeat taught NOT to judge, mental label,mwntal access any trauma victim of crime or medical; yet it's done as a habit in medical and to soldiers. To men tally RoUTED and label a veteran,  whose medical.necessity is blocked is cruel. Medical is a basic human right. Any basic life tight violated and blocked is a severe trauma to every aspect of a life. So, what next, routing  the next child right after being a bomb victim? Meanwhile, volatile, aggro, perps thst prey and destroy and harm are not focused on fi be what mental health SHLULD be routing and labeling. Perhaps, those ones over labelling are projecting tgeir own inner destroy drive, mental illnesses and do all not to focus mental health or dsmv classifications defining and classifying the most dangerous and prevalent mental.order in all economic classes would potentially EXPOSE THEM..
    Take care..
    )))

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