Going from bad to worse: The ever-increasing problem of harassment in the Armed Forces | Bolt Burdon Kemp Going from bad to worse: The ever-increasing problem of harassment in the Armed Forces | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Going from bad to worse: The ever-increasing problem of harassment in the Armed Forces

Fresh evidence has emerged that harassment in the Armed Forces, particularly sexual harassment, is on the rise after 15 service personnel reported misconduct since January.

Colonel Philip Ingram, founder of the Independent Defence Authority which lobbies for Armed Forces personnel and now provides support to those suffering harassment, has been approached by 15 service personnel in the last month seeking support. He commented that they had contacted him because they had lost faith in the service complaints process and were concerned that their complaints would not be properly investigated.

Sadly, it is no secret that bullying and harassment is rife in the Armed Forces.

One of the most serious recent examples comes in the form of the Red Arrows scandal, with the Red Arrows being placed in “special measures” after a report discovered widespread and normalised predatory behaviour towards women.

It’s a similar story in the Royal Navy, especially for those serving as submariners. In October 2022, the head of the Royal Navy ordered an investigation into abhorrent allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the submarine service as a result of shocking reports of verbal, physical and sexual assault.

The recent investigations into the allegations of harassment in the RAF and Royal Navy have revealed evidence of a toxic culture, where the sexual assault and bullying of women is commonplace.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) previously said they were appalled by the findings of the RAF investigation, but it doesn’t seem lessons are really being learnt. Further evidence has emerged this week after a woman in the RAF reported facing constant sexual harassment from her male manager, which was so severe she felt scared to go to work and suffered panic attacks, culminating in her quitting her job.

The MoD seem to be turning a blind eye to the severity of the problem and the far-reaching impact it’s having on service personnel. An MoD spokesperson has insisted that every service person who makes a complaint is given “comprehensive welfare support” and that “significant progress” has been made to improve the service complaints process with the MoD confirming it is “committed to providing a fair, efficient and effective” system.

As solicitors who represent many service personnel who have experienced harassment during their military service, we know that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The service complaint process is fundamentally flawed.

Individuals who make complaints are not properly supported, their complaints are not dealt with in a timely fashion and they are not investigated impartially. In essence, the service complaint process unfairly protects those at the top and the reputation of the Armed Forces. It is no wonder that individuals are seeking support elsewhere.

Recent evidence submitted to the defence select enquiry on women in the Armed Forces also revealed that many victims of bullying and harassment in the Armed Forces have had to wait a year for their complaints to be investigated, far greater than the 26 weeks stipulated by the JSP.

This has resulted in them feeling isolated, unsafe and suffering from mental health problems. It also exacerbated a loss of faith in the service complaints process, leaving individuals feeling like they have nowhere to turn.

The MoD must do better and change needs to start at the top.

At Bolt Burdon Kemp we represent service personnel who have been affected by bullying and harassment during their service. If you are considering your options and would like some confidential advice, please contact our team.

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