Sexual harassment in the Armed Forces: Is enough being done?
An inquiry into harassment and bullying across the Armed Forces is due to report in the coming weeks.
The inquiry was launched following a number of reported incidents, including an alleged sexual assault on a 17-year-old female soldier. It has been tasked with understanding evidence which has been gathered regarding inappropriate behaviour across the services, and making recommendations on what can be done.
A report, published by the Army in 2018, revealed that 8% of servicemen and 21% of servicewomen had either experienced or observed sexual harassment at work within the previous 12 months. The report recommended a review of existing policies and better training on sexual harassment.
The former Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, commenting on the recent spate of incidents said:
“The Ministry of Defence and our Armed Forces are absolutely clear there is no place for sexual offending. We expect the highest standards of behaviour from our Service personnel.
“Inappropriate behaviour is downright unacceptable and it stands in stark contrast with everything the Armed Forces represent.
“The Armed Forces are committed to addressing the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault through a range of actions, including awareness campaigns and training presentations around sexual consent.”
His comments were echoed by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark-Carleton Smith, who posted a message via YouTube condemning the allegations as unacceptable.
Time for change
Sexual harassment and incidents of sexual assault have been an ongoing issue for the Armed Forces and previous preventative measures have seemingly not gone far enough. A report published in 2006, revealed that 99% of servicewomen had been subjected to some form of sexual remark or material by male colleagues. The same sentiments were expressed at that time that urgent action was needed, and that such behaviour would not be tolerated.
The findings of the 2018 report suggest that the same issues are repeatedly coming up and that sexualised behaviours remain common. Arguably a lot more needs to be done to remove any notion that these behaviours are ever acceptable. Part of that requires education around issues of consent, and in particular training on the use of social media.
Concerns have long been raised about the reporting of incidents and the way in which these are investigated and prosecuted, with relative few convictions resulting from the number of complaints involving sexual offences made every year. There have been calls for more serious cases to be passed to the civilian police for investigation rather than being dealt with exclusively by the various branches of the military police.
It will be interesting to see whether this latest report goes any further in its recommendations to address these issues. It is shocking that sexual harassment and assault remain so prevalent within our Armed Force and this must change.