Almost two-thirds of women in the armed forces have experienced bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination during their career, according to a parliamentary report that says the UK military is “failing to protect” female recruits. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) lifted the legal restrictions that usually prevent serving military from contributing to such inquiries. Around one in ten serving women gave testimony.
The report describes “truly shocking evidence” included gang rape and extensive institutionalised sexual harassment. Some women revealed how they were bullied for refusing sexual advances or had witnessed friends being attacked by groups of men but were too afraid to report it. 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).
Many readers will not find the reports as “truly shocking” as the Defence Sub-Committee. A strictly hierarchical organisation, with legal preventions on whistleblowing, that exists for the purpose of violence and subjugation, would likely be a hotbed of sexual misconduct.
The report does not look into rape and sexual violence by military personnel against civilians. The International Criminal Court revealed in December 2020 that it would not take action against the UK, despite finding evidence British troops committed war crimes in Iraq. A 180-page report detailed abuse by British of Iraqi detainees. The ICC report refers to evidence of a pattern of war crimes carried out across a number of years by soldiers from several British regiments. Some detainees were raped or subjected to sexual violence. Others were beaten so badly they died from their injuries. We may never know how many violent crimes the military commit against civilians.
The parliamentary report advocates removing the chain of command from dealing with complaints of a sexual nature. It also urges the MoD to transfer cases of rape and sexual assault from the military justice system to the civilian court system. Statistics reveal lower conviction rates by military courts, especially for rape. Between 2015 and 2020, the average conviction rate for rape in civilian courts was 34%, more than twice the rate of conviction in military courts (16%).
Serving in the military should not offer protection from prosecution for violent crime. The armed forces should not be able to cover up the extent of violence within the military and against civilian populations.
We are anti-militarists and want mass working-class action to dismantle the military complex; but we also raise demands for reforms that make soldiers accountable for crimes they commit, including sex and war crimes, and for the right of individuals in the armed forces to speak out about violence and to organise democratically against command structures that encourage and cover up abuse, including war crimes.