Woman in armed forces “at considerable risk of sexual harassment”

Sexual harassment, bullying and physical assaults against women are rife in the military, according to a disturbing new report.

Researchers, who interviewed 750 female veterans, found that almost a quarter (22.5%) reported experiencing sexual harassment, while 22.7% reported experiencing emotional bullying.

The report, published in BMJ Military Health, found that five percent had been sexually assaulted and three percent physically.

Younger women, women who had served as officers or worked in a combat or combat support role in the military were more likely to report such experiences, according to the report.

The study found that sexual harassment was primarily linked to a situation in which women felt painful or tired due to the mental health repercussions of the abuse they suffered.

“Sexual assault was significantly associated with alcohol-related difficulties, and emotional bullying was significantly associated with common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, poor social support, and loneliness,” the reporters warned. researchers.

The study primarily asked women over 61 about their former life in the military, with the researchers noting that “the findings may not be generalizable to younger service members.”

“Many women do not report adverse service experiences due to fear of the consequences of doing so and may continue to suffer from increased mental distress during and after military service,” the researchers said.

“It is essential to determine whether current reporting procedures do not ensure sufficient confidentiality to encourage women to report adverse experiences and more appropriate disclosure procedures need to be considered. “

Some 16,500 women currently serve in the British Army, representing around 11 percent of the workforce.

Lt. Col. Diane Allen, who resigned over a year ago for alleged discrimination, said The independent she was “saddened but not at all surprised” to see the search results.

She added: “This report is tied to veterans stories, but the issues have not changed. Atherton’s recent survey of women in defense, released in July, found the same things are still happening and may be increasing in frequency or due to the increase in reporting.

Lt. Col. Allen, who was one of the first women in history to train at Sandhurst when she was 18, said she agreed with the report’s warning that there is a lack of support for veterans who in turn see their experiences “ignored”.

She added: “There is a similar issue for the service, which also has no voice due to the very real fear of being ostracized and losing their home and career by speaking out. What is common is the lack of legal representation or human resources, while the Ministry of Defense (MoD) deploys large teams of lawyers to enlighten these women and tell them that nothing has happened.

“Add that to the lack of confidentiality in the system and you will understand why we have these persistent issues. The common denominator is an ongoing problem for top management – top leaders write policies but fail to stick to them. “

The ex-officer, who wrote a book titled Warned about his time in the military, warned their “subordinate bosses and then take the issues under the rug” because of their own “real fears” of being fired from their jobs “if they bring bad news to their people. bosses ”.

“I suspect we will hear the common defense ministry response: ‘the defense ministry does not condone bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and takes it very seriously” – except they don’t. . We need to ask them to share examples of when they took it seriously. “

Talk to The independent For a previous article, Lt. Col. Allen recounted how a senior officer allegedly followed her after she left the bar when she was deployed to Germany at the age of 21.

While senior officials have said progress in tackling sexism and sexual harassment in the military has been too slow and women in the military often face a sexist culture of “laddish behavior”. MPs also warned that conviction rates in rape and sexual assault cases remain “disgracefully low.”

A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry said they were determined to “improve the experience of women in the military in all areas of their lives and do not tolerate abuse, bullying, harassment or discrimination “.

The representative noted that they had adopted measures to improve the situation of women in the armed forces, “as we continue to do for all serving personnel,” they added.

“This includes launching a confidential, independent 24/7 bullying, harassment and discrimination hotline with trained counselors to support staff.

“All allegations are taken very seriously, with illegal behavior being investigated by the relevant police departments if necessary.”