The Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces has published its report ‘Protecting Those Who Protect Us: Women in the Armed Forces from Recruitment to Civilian Life‘.
The results of the report are, quite frankly, sobering.
“In the Committee’s survey, 64 percent of female veterans and 58 percent of currently-serving women reported experiencing BHD during their careers. The MoD’s representative statistics show that BHD and sexual harassment are gendered. The inquiry heard truly shocking evidence of the bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape experienced by servicewomen. At the same time, the majority of our survey respondents do not believe the military does enough to address BHD, even if things are better than they once were.”
According to a statement from the commitee:
“The inquiry is one of the most important in the Committee’s history, with the Sub-Committee receiving an almost unprecedented level of engagement. Around one in ten female personnel currently serving in the Regulars contributed to the inquiry. It is also the first of its kind, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) lifting the usual restrictions that prevent service personnel from contributing to inquiries.
The report finds that the MoD and Services are failing to protect female personnel and to help servicewomen achieve their full potential. Whilst most servicewomen and female veterans we consulted (nearly 90 percent of respondents to our survey) would recommend the Armed Forces as a career, more than 3,000 (around 84 percent) reported that female service personnel face additional challenges relative to their male counterparts.”
Chair of the Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces and female veteran, Sarah Atherton MP, said:
“Women are integral to our military’s success and our country’s security, yet women in the Armed Forces carry additional burdens to that of their male colleagues. Women face barriers to promotion, issues with families and childcare, abuse and inappropriate behaviours, and an overrepresentation in the Service Complaints system. Female veterans face distinctive challenges when transitioning into civilian life and have specific needs, different to male veterans, that cannot be dealt with by broad-brush, one-size-fits-all veterans’ services. Unfortunately, the stories we heard paint a difficult picture for women in the military. Accounts of bullying, harassment, discrimination, ‘laddish’ behaviour, and sometimes serious sexual assault and rape. The Complaints system, as it stands, is woefully inadequate and leaves most feeling unable to come forward. We also heard accusations of senior officers sweeping complaints under the rug to protect their own reputations and careers. While many commanding officers want to do the right thing, it is clear that, too often, female service personnel are being let down by the chain of command.
“Sexual assault and rape are amongst the most serious offences committed against female service personnel and discussed in this report. It is difficult not to be moved by the stories of trauma, both emotional and physical, suffered by women at the hands of their colleagues. A woman raped in the military often then has to live and work with the accused perpetrator, with fears that speaking out would damage her career prospects. Our recommendations attempt to mitigate this and ask the Ministry of Defence to tackle the issue of criminal behaviour head on. From our evidence, it is clear to us that serious sexual offenses should not be tried in the Court Martial system. It cannot be right that conviction rates in military courts are four to six times lower than in civilian courts. Military women are being denied justice. I am delighted that the Ministry of Defence now acknowledges the serious issue of rape and sexual assault in the military. There is no doubt the recent written statement is in direct response to our inquiry and I hope that the Ministry of Defence will demonstrate ambition and act on the recommendations in this report. It is incumbent on all of us, to work together, to achieve better outcomes for servicewomen.”
Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said:
“The importance of the contribution that servicewomen make to the military, and to the country as a whole, cannot be overstated. It is clear from this report that more can, and should, be done to protect and provide for servicewomen and female veterans, who have, far too often, been let down by the Ministry of Defence. Where there has been injustice, rectifications must be made.
The issue of sexual assault and rape in the military is pressing. It is somewhat disconcerting that, in its recent statement, the Ministry of Defence seems selective in the data it uses. Our Sub-Committee has conducted in-depth research, over several months, on the issue of sexual assault and rape, and has an accurate and honest understanding of the problems women face. This is not a race to the bottom or a matter of saving face. We should place the issue itself at the heart of our work. I would like to thank Sarah and the team, who have done a fantastic job of leading this Sub-Committee.”