Defence Committee survey: Most armed forces women have faced bullying, harassment and discrimination
Thursday, September 23, 2021

Women in the armed forces who are victims of bullying, harassment, discrimination and serious sexual assault are being "denied justice" by a "woefully inadequate" military complaints process, say MPs. The Defence Select Committee has today (25 July 2021) published the report of an inquiry under the title "Protecting those who protect us: Women in the Armed Forces from Recruitment to Civilian Life."

The problems identified by the inquiry are real and not the product of mere "political correctness" or even "woke". Having contributed to and helped to publicise several parliamentary inquiries over the years, and having consistently called for genuine improvements (not more bureaucracy) to the service complaints system, it is a pity that BAFF didn't contribute or encourage individual responses to this one, but we commend everyone who did respond.

An unprecedented number - 4,200 - of current and former serving women contributed to the inquiry.

Most (90%) servicewomen and female veterans consulted said they would recommend a career in the armed forces but more than 3,000 (around 84%) said being female meant facing additional challenges compared with their male counterparts.

Shockingly, the survey by the Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces found 64% of female veterans and 58% of serving women reported experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination (BHD).

As the Committee pointed out:

When things go wrong, they go dramatically wrong. The systems for responding to unacceptable behaviour are failing our service personnel, both male and female. The Service Complaints Ombudsman has never judged the military’s internal complaints system, in which female Service personnel are overrepresented, as ‘efficient, effective and fair’.

The headline recommendations by the Committee are to:

  • Establish a central Defence Authority, to provide a reporting and investigation system for bullying, harassment and discrimination, outside the Chain of Command and outside the Single Services
  • Remove the chain of command entirely from complaints of a sexual nature
  • Adapt performance assessment systems to prevent the progression of Service personnel, particularly leaders, who have acted unacceptably
  • Commit to tri-service sexual harassment surveys annually
  • Amend the Armed Forces Bill 2021 to retain the 6-week time limit for complaint appeals
  • Make recommendations by the Service Complaints Ombudsman binding
  • Remove Rape and Sexual Assault with penetration in the UK from the Court Martial jurisdiction, unless the Attorney General gives consent
  • Publish greater data on the pathway for victims of rape and sexual assault

and "the MoD and Single Services should also make other changes", for example:

  • Urgently roll out female-appropriate uniform and equipment
  • Consider female-specific needs in health policies
  • Roll out wraparound childcare to all Services by the end of 2022.
  • Carry out an equality analysis of the Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper
  • Acknowledge and celebrate female veterans, through public memorials, blue plaques and support for female veterans’ networks
  • Ensure both women and men veterans can benefit fully from transition and veterans’ services, by improving female representation and adapting them to the differing challenges of female veterans
  • Recognise ‘military sexual trauma’ and fund specialist support service

What do you think about these detailed proposals? We'd welcome comments here or on our Facebook page.