Men in the military are more often sexually assaulted than women, the newest Pentagon report says
, but many of the victims won't come forward and their plight is often overlooked in a debate that focuses more on females.
The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, up from 19,000 in 2010, The New York Times reports
Fifty-three percent of those cases were attacks on men, mainly by other men.
Women are more likely to be assaulted by men, experts say, but assaults against men are underreported, as most formal complaints are filed by women while men remain silent.
"Men don’t acknowledge being victims of sexual assault,” said Dr. Carol O’Brien, chief of post-traumatic stress disorder programs at the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Florida, which houses a residential treatment program for sexually abused veterans. "Men tend to feel a great deal of shame, embarrassment. and fear that others will respond negatively."
Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said plans are being developed to encourage more men to report sexual assaults. In addition, she said, the Pentagon is focusing on prevention efforts geared toward men, and to determine the kind of support and assistance male victims need.
Traditionally, men have feared reporting sexual attacks because of the likelihood they would be punished or even discharged for admitting having sexual contact, even if it was unwanted, with another man.
"Back in 1969, you didn’t dare say a word," author Gregory Helle, who was raped by a male soldier while in his barracks in Vietnam, told the Times. "They wouldn’t have believed me. Homophobia was big back then."
In addition, many of the sexual assaults come as a form of violent hazing or bullying, according to Roger Canaff, a former New York state prosecutor who offers training on the subject of military sexual assault for the Pentagon.
A small number of men also reported being raped by women, often by superior officers who force them to have sex or face receiving poor reviews, the Times also noted.
Some experts say the repeal of the federal "don't ask, don't tell" law may encourage more men to report sexual assault.
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