It is saddening to read yet another report detailing the extent of abuse – physical, mental, and sexual – within our Armed Forces. The recent research, ‘Emotional bullying and sexual harassment and physical assault of women is widespread in the military’, by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) draws stark parallels to the findings of the Defence Select Committee’s inquiry I chaired into the lived experiences of women in the military.
Indeed, these findings are not new. The disadvantages faced by women in the military was evidenced in the Lyons Review (2018), the Wigston Review (2019), Danuta Gray’s “review” of the Wigston Review (2020), and also in the recently published Henriques report. These are all in addition to the extensive research being produced by academics, charities, and representatives. How many more reports, with the same conclusions, need to be commissioned before action is taken?
62% of women who responded to the Defence Committee’s survey said that they had experienced abuse whilst serving. Poor quality investigations, unsatisfactory outcomes and the life-long traumatic effect this often has upon women, were all common themes. The negative consequences for women even raising a complaint means that 6 out of 10 women told us they chose not to complain as they had no faith in the impartiality of the system. Thankfully this is something that the incoming Chief of the Defence Staff – Admiral, Sir Tony Radakin – has publicly recognised. As such, I hope that his appointment will be a catalyst for action and change.
We have the best military in the world and women deserve to be equal partners. This issue is about operational effectiveness and the maintenance of British values of fairness and justice. So, I would urge the Ministry of Defence to show leadership, to take this opportunity to modernise and build a military fit for the twenty-first century. I look forward to their response to my report, which is expected shortly, but whilst the MOD deliberates, women in our Armed Forces are still being disadvantaged.
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