Sexual assault has emerged as one of the defining issues for the military this year. Reports of assaults are up, as are questions about whether commanders have taken the problem seriously. Bills to toughen penalties and prosecution have been introduced in Congress.
But in a debate that has focused largely on women, this fact is often overlooked: The majority of service members who are sexually assaulted are men.
In its latest report, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, the Pentagon says 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men.
"It's easy for some people to single out women and say: 'There's a small percentage of the force having this problem,' " said 1st Lt. Adam Cohen, who says he was raped by a superior officer. "No one wants to admit this problem affects everyone. Both genders, of all ranks."
Though women, who represent about 15 percent of the force, are significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted in the military than men, experts say assaults against men have been vastly underreported. For that reason, the majority of formal complaints of military sexual assault have been filed by women, even though the majority of victims are thought to be men.
Dr. Carol O'Brien, chief of post-traumatic stress disorder programs at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Pinellas County, which has a residential treatment program for sexually abused veterans, said, "Men tend to feel a great deal of shame, embarrassment and fear that others will respond negatively."
The Defense Department says it is developing plans to encourage more men to report the crime. "A focus of our prevention efforts over the next several months is specifically geared toward male survivors and will include why male survivors report at much lower rates than female survivors, and determining the unique support and assistance male survivors need," Cynthia Smith, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Thomas Drapac says he was raped on three occasions by higher-ranking enlisted sailors in Norfolk, Va., in 1966. He said he had been drinking each time and feared that if he told prosecutors they would assume it was consensual sex. Parts of his story are corroborated in Department of Veterans Affairs records.
"If you made a complaint, then you are gay and you're out and that's it," he said.