Bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the Red Arrows
The RAF is reeling from embarrassing revelations today that more than 40 personnel, including young female recruits, have provided evidence of alleged toxic behaviour in the Red Arrows.
The Red Arrows is the RAF’s elite aerobatic team and have an important role in demonstrating the prowess and excellence of the Service at home and abroad. The RAF’s website says:
“Representing the speed, agility and precision of the Royal Air Force, the team is the public face of the Service. They assist in recruiting to the Armed Forces, act as ambassadors for the United Kingdom at home and overseas and promote the best of British.”
Despite the importance of their public-facing role, it looks like there has been a massive issue with behaviour and possibly crime within the Red Arrows, including amongst other things:
- Sexual harassment
- Drinking culture
- Threats that complainants would be ‘kicked out’
- ‘misunderstanding consent’
That last description of behaviour is a real understatement; what it potentially means is ‘rape’.
What is equally worrying but not surprising to many lawyers in this field is that:
- There are complaints raised about the Chain of Command ‘sweeping issues under the carpet’.
- Despite an investigation by Service Police, no criminal charges have been brought.
- The inquiry into the Unit has suffered many months of delays.
We know from the MoD’s own statistics that the vast majority of Service personnel do not trust the MoD to investigate their complaints or conclude them favourably; this situation has remained the same for many years, particularly for female Service personnel.
We also know that the Service police have a woeful record of successfully prosecuting crimes involving harassment and sexual crime.
Delays are not new to these inquiries either. Many Service personnel are put off raising Service complaints because they take so long to conclude, and I have often spoken to complainants who decide to ‘give up’ simply because they cannot wait years for their complaints to conclude; these delays can have a real impact on their health and wellbeing.
None of this is news. In 2021 the Defence Committee undertook an inquiry into the lives of servicewomen. It heard evidence from over 4,100 servicewomen, including veterans, and in July 2021 published its report: “Protecting those who protect us: women in the Armed Forces from recruitment to Civilian Life”. The Committee made a number of findings:
- 64% of female veterans and 58 %of currently-serving women reported experiencing bullying, harassment and/or discrimination during their military careers.
- Servicewomen are ten times more likely than servicemen to make complaints of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination.
- Most servicewomen surveyed do not believe that the military does enough to address issues of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination.
- 60% of those women giving evidence said that they did not complain because they were afraid of reprisals.
- The Inquiry saw evidence of repeated failures by the Chain of Command to protect victims and in some cases they even took part in offensive behaviour.
The revelations about the Red Arrows comes within days of further statistics obtained by The Times newspaper which show that official allegations of bullying have increased by almost 40% in seven years.
At BBK we still hear from many survivors who say that the culture in the military is not changing, and this is not exclusive to one Service but all the Services. There are still many examples of the Chain of Command allowing perpetrators to carry on in service and, worse still, being left in positions where they can continue to abuse their power.
To its credit, the MoD have rolled out a new “zero tolerance” policy towards bullying and harassment, and you might want to see my colleague’s blog about this. We are yet to see a positive impact by this change in policy, however.
The inquiry onto the Red Arrows is being handled by Air Chief Marshall Wigston. You may know him as the person whose report into “inappropriate behaviours” for the MoD concluded some three years ago, and whose recommendations have still not been implemented in full by the MoD. I hope for the sake of the survivors that he completes a thorough investigation which uncovers the truth and leads to justice. Survivors need to see results and their faith in the system is now being tested.
If you are a Service person or veteran and have suffered from a toxic environment at work, including harassment, bullying or sexual crime, then you should take advice as soon as possible to protect your rights.