Armed Forces must send a message that they do not tolerate sexual offending

Posted by Sara Ogilvie on 26 July 2016

With Westminster and Whitehall in the midst of a heatwave, and parliamentarians preparing for their summer recess, the publication last Thursday of the first ever set of statistics on sexual offences in the military justice system almost slipped under the radar.

Liberty first raised the problem of patchy and inconsistent reporting of statistics on allegations, investigations, prosecutions and convictions for sexual offending in the Armed Forces back in 2014, and we welcomed the Government’s concession – made during the passage of the 2016 Armed Forces Act – to publish stats on an annual basis.

The picture remains incomplete – the figures don’t include how many allegations were made, nor any incidents investigated by civilian police forces. But they begin to offer a glimpse into the extent and nature of sexual offending in the forces.

And the picture they paint is a concerning one. There were 94 service police investigations involving 102 suspects and 113 victims. The service prosecuting authorities received 99 referrals and brought sexual offence charges in 54 cases, with 21 defendants found guilty.

The vast majority of alleged offences took place in the UK and Germany. While the majority of victims were service personnel (42 Army, 11 Royal Navy, 10 RAF), a notable number (27) were civilians. It’s unclear from the statistics whether these latter were in the UK or abroad.

Most allegations were levelled against members of the Army, with the majority of perpetrators male and the victims female.

There were 20 rape investigations, but just 12 individuals were court martialled for 32 charges – and only four were convicted.

Two straightforward steps

Sexual violence across all of society is unacceptable – and in an institution which represents the UK across the globe, it’s imperative more is done to stamp it out. 

To send a clear message that the Armed Forces do not tolerate sexual offending, and to ensure proper independent and effective investigations for victims, two straightforward steps must be taken.

First, the Government must put an end once and for all to the discretion of a Commanding Officer to investigate allegations of sexual assault.

To avoid defeat during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill, the Government has committed to reviewing this issue by the end of the year. It’s essential this review concludes that all investigations must be handled by the police.

Second, the Government must accept the need to make sure investigations of rape and serious sexual assault are undertaken by civilian rather than service police forces.

As a result of the deaths of four soldiers at Deepcut barracks, the Ministry of Defence accepted that deaths on service property must be investigated by civilian forces. It’s surely now time for them to acknowledge that the most serious sexual offences merit the same independent treatment.

The majority of investigations for rape and serious sexual assault take place in the UK and at a base in Germany which is due to close down by 2019, with troops repatriated to the UK. In practical terms, there are no barriers to civilian police investigation.


  •          94 investigations into allegations of sexual offending involving members of the Armed Forces, including 12 into historic offences.
  •          51 cases referred to the prosecuting authorities,  21 still under investigation
  •          20 investigations of rape
  •          Nine investigations of sexual assault involving penetration
  •          40 investigations of other sexual assaults.
  •          102 suspects – 98 were male
  •          113 victims – 27 male and 86 female
  •          27 victims were civilians and four were members of foreign military forces
  •          12 investigations into historic allegations involved 14 male suspects, and 11 of the 19 victims were men
  •          39 cases involved incidents in the UK, 33 in Germany


  •         99 cases involving sexual offences referred
  •         54 cases with charges brought, charges discontinued in 32 cases and brought alternative charges in four cases.

Court martial outcomes

  •          Court martial heard 100 charges of sexual offences against 49 service defendants
  •          21 defendants found guilty of 40 charges
  •          24 defendants found not guilty of 46 charges


  •          20 investigations
  •          Seven incidents in the UK and eight in Germany
  •          13 referrals to the prosecuting authorities and five still under investigation
  •          16 suspects were in the Army, three in the Royal Navy and two in the RAF
  •          12 victims were civilians
  •          12 defendants were brought before the Court Martial
  •          Two convictions

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Defend Soldiers’ Rights