Soldiers' rights

The latest Army Sexual Harassment Report shows drastic changes are urgently needed

Posted on 25 Sep 2018

The Army’s sexual harassment survey and action plan was published earlier this month.

The survey indicates that both generalised sexualised behaviours – those relating to the culture and working environment – and sexualised behaviour targeted at a specific person have reduced slightly since 2015.

But far less positive is the increase in women reporting upsetting experiences as a consequence of targeted sexualised behaviour. And reports of “particularly upsetting experiences” are increasing with each survey.

Worst of all are the figures on sexual assaults.

Twelve per cent of the women who responded reported having been the victim of intentional sexual touching.

Seven percent had been the subject of an attempted sexual assault.

Five per cent were victims of serious sexual assault.

Three per cent reported being the victim of rape.

The vast majority of these incidents appear to have taken place in the workplace or in the training unit.


The personal impact of this kind of behaviour can of course be devastating. There are also workplace impacts as productivity is badly affected.

Less than half told anyone at work about it. For those who complained, the outcomes were poor. Very high rates of dissatisfaction were recorded in terms of how well a complaint outcome was communicated to the victim, follow up action taken against the person responsible and the amount of time taken to resolve the complaint.

Three-quarters of those who made a formal complaint said that they had suffered negative consequences as a result. Nine out of ten had thought about leaving the Army altogether.

These are the experiences of Liberty’s clients – dealing with a drawn out service complaints process with no independent involvement until all internal appeals routes are exhausted, having to explain over and over again what they went through, and not being believed.

For service people who have experienced sexual assault – and many also report having been sexually harassed beforehand – this process can be dreadful.

And factoring in the stats from the Ministry of Defence’s sexual offences bulletin – which shows that only two of the 48 rape cases that actually got to the court martial in 2017  resulted in a conviction – how can anyone advise a rape victim in all good conscience to report their rape to the service police?

Rape conviction rates in the civilian system are bad enough, but the military’s figures are staggering.

Grave injustice

The armed forces are trying to get better. The vital three-yearly survey shows they are serious about wanting to understand what their people are experiencing. And the fact they have now collated and published statistics on sexual offending in the military for three years running is also very positive.

The survey rightly recognised that “service personnel were positive about the extent to which their Chain of Command demonstrated behaviours that created a positive command climate based on trust and respect”.

There are senior military personnel genuinely trying to get this right. And there are independent organisations like Liberty that want to help them.

But until the armed forces let the civilian police in to investigate these more serious cases, until they give the Ombudsman greater powers to investigate serious complaints far earlier in the process, and until all service police forces are brought under the oversight of the Independent Office of Police Conduct – like all other police forces in the UK – they are doing their people a grave injustice.

This is fundamental to operational effectiveness – if you don’t look after your people, they will leave.

But what’s more, it is about justice, fairness and basic human dignity.

Our soldiers deserve the same treatment as everyone else. It’s time the MoD made this a reality.

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