UK’s Ministry of Defence accused of failing servicewomen

Ministry of Defence UK updates

The Ministry of Defence is failing to protect servicewomen and help them achieve their full potential, a parliamentary report has found, with “shocking evidence” of bullying, harassment and sexual assault within the armed forces. 

The report, published on Sunday, by the Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces found that of those surveyed, 64 per cent of female veterans and 58 per cent of women serving in the army experienced bullying, discrimination and harassment throughout their careers.

“Our inquiry received truly shocking evidence from female service personnel of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape they experienced, some of which — even more disturbingly — involved senior officers acting as wrongdoers,” the report’s authors note.

The parliamentary committee, which took contributions from 4,106 women in the army, found a lack in confidence in the complaints system. “Too often, complaints are being brushed under the carpet and there is inadequate support,” the report said.

The committee also noted serious problems with the handling of the Service Justice System’s handling of criminal sexual offences.

Service women faced day-to-day challenges due to their gender, the report said, with accounts of ill-fitting uniform and equipment.

Three-quarters of female veterans said that the department was unhelpful in assisting their transition from military to civilian life.

As part of a series of recommendations aimed at improving the culture for servicewomen, the committee has urged the MoD to continue to “trial and fully roll out safer, more appropriate uniform and equipment for female service personnel”.

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The report called for the creation of a specialised defence authority designed to properly investigate bullying complaints alongside increased funding for the existing complaints ombudsman. 

The committee has also urged the MoD to hand over responsibility for cases of rape and sexual assault to the civilian court system, amid growing concerns over the handling of sexual assault cases within military courts. 

According to figures uncovered by Labour earlier this year, between 2015 and 2019, the conviction rate for rape cases heard by courts martial was just 10 per cent. This compares to a 59 per cent conviction rate for rape within civilian courts within the same period. 

“It cannot be right that conviction rates in military courts are four to six times lower than in civilian courts,” said Sarah Atherton, Conservative MP and chair of the subcommittee on Women in the Armed Forces.

Atherton, who is a veteran, said that while the military had “come a long way”, more reforms were needed, with women facing “barriers to promotion, issues with families and childcare, abuse and inappropriate
behaviours, and an over-representation in the Service Complaints

This sentiment was echoed by chair of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood who described the issue of sexual assault within the military as pressing and warned that more needed to be done to protect and provide for servicewomen and female veterans, who in many instances had been let down by the MoD. 

“Our subcommittee 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”, he said. “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.”

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