Male veteran sexual assault survivors speak out

Former Army service member and current UConn student, Michael Bidwell, and Navy Veteran Bob Hunter, boldly share their stories and discuss the effects of military sexual trauma. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

The Violence Against Women Prevention Program (VAWPP), the Veterans Affairs and Military Programs and the Veteran Student Organization joined on March 27 for a forum on male military sexual assaults.

Two panelists from the MAVEN Foundation led the discussion about the effects and causes of military sexual trauma (MST). The MAVEN Foundation is a non-profit organization that raises awareness for veteran survivors of MST.

Former Army service member and sixth-semester political science major and women’s gender and sexuality studies minor Michael Bidwell shared his experiences at West Point Academy, along with Veteran Bob Hunter who shared his experiences from the Navy.

The pair began the discussion with a TEDTalks video by Tony Porter about toxic masculinity and the mistreatment of women and men that stems from it. Bidwell and Hunter said the issue of masculinity is a large part of sexual violence and an even larger issue in the military.

While coordinator Lauren Donais was introducing Bidwell and Hunter, she explained that as soon as a man enrolls in the military, his risk of sexual assault increases ten fold. The pair added that 14,000 sexual assaults in the military occur every year.

“That is truly an epidemic,” Bidwell said.

Hunter then spoke about his own rape while in the Navy. His account was an honest story of the effects of repressed memories. He said his mind blacked out the memory of his rape for years. 32 years later, the memory came back and his world turned upside down.

Hunter said that at the time of his rape, he was at the height of his body building training and he never thought a strong man like himself could be raped. Hunter said he had to reshape his definition of what it means to be a man after the trauma.

Bidwell described his own perspective on how the stereotypes of masculinity affected him.

“In the Army there’s the program SHARP, Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention… I was like, ‘This is blowing it way out of proportion. Rape doesn’t happen in the military. Even if it does happen, it doesn’t happen here at West Point. Even if it does happen at West Point, I’m a 6’2” 200+ pound guy. This isn’t my problem.’”

Bidwell went further to explain how gender and social norms negatively affected him.

“(My assaulters) told me that if I tried to stop them, or file a report, that they would report that I had tried to rape them. Who would they believe? The two women or the man? That’s the nature of our society. ‘They will believe us over you. So you might as well go along with it.’”

Bidwell and Hunter disagreed with the language that described their attacks. Hunter said that he wants people to know he was raped, while Bidwell understands that it’s a sensitive topic and prefers the term “sexual assault.”

“I’m not afraid to talk about it. The weird thing to hear is ‘You’re so brave for talking about it.’ I’m not brave, I turn my brain off and I start talking,” Hunter said.

In the Army there’s the program SHARP, Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention… I was like, ‘This is blowing it way out of proportion. Rape doesn’t happen in the military. Even if it does happen, it doesn’t happen here at West Point. Even if it does happen at West Point, I’m a 6’2” 200+ pound guy. This isn’t my problem.
— Michael Bidwell

Donais said language differences are common among victims of assault and trauma.

“Sometimes someone comes to us and describes something that is so clearly to me sexual assault,” Donais said. “But they might not want to call it that. Everyone has the right to name their own experiences. The language we use is so important.”

Mark Garcia, a second-semester MCB major and Army ROTC Cadet, said he found the real-world information interesting.

“We get semester trainings about SHARP, but it’s a hush-hush thing here,” Garcia said. “I wanted to hear the perspective from an outside Army veteran.”


Claire Galvin is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus.   She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.