Jaysley Beck suicide shows MoD must do more than training to protect women in army
The recent service inquiry report into the death of 19-year-old Jaysley Beck is once again shining a light on unacceptable behaviours and practices within the British Army. As someone who has acted for numerous survivors of sexual harassment and abuse by senior military officers, I don’t believe the MoD’s response to this case will stop predatory behaviour.
Royal Artillery Gunner Jaysley Beck took her own life in December 2021 after relentless sexual harassment by one of her bosses.
The service inquiry report, released earlier this month, found that almost five months prior to her deat, Jaysley had been the victim of an unwelcome sexual advance from a high-ranking individual (warrant officer).
Despite reporting the incident, a proper investigation was not undertaken and the officer in question received a minor disciplinary sanction. The inquiry panel confirmed they believed the management of this incident may have influenced Jaysley’s decision not to report the harassment that followed.
The report goes on to describe how a couple of months later her line manager began attempts at initiating a relationship with her and began harassing her with messages, phone calls and voicemails. Her boss followed her around to the point she had to leave a task early and was found to be in a distressed state a few weeks prior to her death. It was found this individual had sent her nearly 5,000 messages and voicemails over the course of October and November 2021.
It appears that although friends and colleagues were aware of her line manager’s behaviour towards her, and were aware she had been suffering panic attacks and talking about the stress she was under, the deterioration in Jaysley’s mental health wasn’t brought to the attention of her chain of command or medical command. The panel concluded the warning signs that were clearly present were missed, mainly due to insufficient awareness of mental health matters amongst the personnel whom she confided in.
Despite acknowledging change is required to address “unacceptable behavioural issues” and concluding the relentless harassment Jaysley suffered was a clear cause of her death, the report said recommendations “arose from unique circumstances that are not necessarily preventable”. It’s difficult to see how this is the case.
Whilst the inquiry recognises there was clearly a permissive environment of inappropriate behaviour which resulted in a concerning series of incidents for a very young and junior soldier, it does not place enough emphasis on the abuses of power and morally reprehensible behaviour that Jaysley was subjected to by senior officers. Indeed, criticism was made of the fact that another married senior soldier did not face any major disciplinary action for abusing his rank.
The inquiry panel expressed concern that the behaviour Jaysley was subjected to was tolerated and prioritised over the duty of care owed to her for her welfare. It refers to the evidence of numerous witnesses who describe other incidents of being subjected to inappropriate and degrading sexual behaviour. It also found these incidents were not being reported because it was tolerated as normalised behaviour.
The stark reality is that the MoD has known for far too long of a culture of unacceptable behaviours including harassment and sexual assault towards female service personnel. Tragically, this is not the first time we are reading about an environment in which young women find themselves in desperate situations, feeling they have no one they can trust to help them.
The response to this seems to have been that army personnel are to complete mandatory Zero Toleration to Unacceptable Behaviours Training by 30 June 2023 with further recommendations to improve mental health awareness and raise the profile of welfare support that is available.
Unfortunately, having acted for numerous clients who have been subjected to sexual harassment and abuse by senior officers, it is going to take more than training to start changing the existing culture.
Those who behave this way will only start to pay attention when the complaints of victims and concerned friends/colleagues are properly investigated and result in serious consequences for them.