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Ministry of Defence "Failing" To Protect Women in the Armed Forces, MPs Report Finds

3 min read

Women serving in the Armed Forces are not being protected by the Ministry of Defence or helped to reach their full potential, a damning new report by MPs has found.

Tory MP and former soldier Sarah Atherton led a major investigation into women's experiences in the armed forces via a sub-committee of the defence select committee earlier this year, with one in ten serving female personnel providing evidence.

The sub-committee found serious problems with the military’s handling of sexual assault and harassment, which sometimes exacerbates trauma for victims.

It is now urging the MoD to remove cases of rape and sexual assault from military courts and the Service Justice System, and instead hand these over to the civilian court system.

A survey which also formed part of the evidence gathering also found that 64 percent of female veterans and 58 percent of currently-serving women reported experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination during their careers.

For the first time serving women were given permission by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to submit their experiences to the committee as part of call for evidence. Some of the accounts detailed rape and serious sexual assault, as well as experiences of gas-lighting, discouraging complaints, and coercing women to withhold information about their ill-treatment in the military.

The report stated that "the MoD and Services are failing to protect female personnel and to help servicewomen achieve their full potential."

Atherton, chair of the sub-committee, said: "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.

“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."

Atherton said despite the evidence they heard, nine out of ten female service personnel they spoke to during this inquiry said they would still recommend a career in the military.

Ahead of the anticipated report, Defence minister Leo Docherty announced the MoD would now set out a new strategy to deal with rape and sexual offences within the military court system (the Service Justice System), which covers the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

In a written ministerial statement, Docherty said: "Rape and serious sexual offences are some of the most horrific crimes dealt with in both the civilian criminal justice system, and the Service Justice System. They have devastating and lasting effects on victims, and it is only right that action is taken to improve public confidence, make the system fairer and more effective and encourage victims to come forward."

He said they would review the Women in the Armed Forces report and the evidence given, as well as its recommendations "with the full seriousness and sensitivity they deserve".

The strategy's aim is to reduce the prevalence and impact of rape and other serious sexual offending in the armed forces and improve the handling of those cases in the Service Justice System.

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