Two-Thirds of Women in UK Military Report Experiencing Bullying, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination

Female service members detailed gang-rape, sexual assault by drugs and a culture of fear in a landmark report about the treatment of women in the U.K. military. (Friedemann Vogel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/CNN)

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.

Heralding its inquiry into the treatment of women in the armed forces as one of the most vital in its history, the defence subcommittee said 62% of the 4,106 veterans and current female personnel who gave testimony had either witnessed or received “unacceptable behaviour”.

Examples of “truly shocking evidence” included accounts of gang rape, sex for promotion or advancement, and trophies or contests to “bag the women” on camp or on ships. 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.

One said that mess and military accommodation were seen as “places of danger” and potentially more dangerous for servicewomen than being deployed to overseas war zones.

Sarah Atherton, chair of the subcommittee on women in the armed forces, said“The stories we heard paint a difficult picture for women. A woman raped in the military often has to live and work with the accused perpetrator, with fears that speaking out would damage her career.”

The committee’s survey is the first of its kind, with the Ministry of Defence lifting the usual restrictions that prevent service personnel from contributing to such inquiries. Around one in 10 serving women gave testimony, with MPs receiving around 700 comments relating to the male-dominated culture and a number calling for more effort to tackle “mess hall culture” and sexualised behaviour. In addition, 11% of women revealed they had experienced sexual harassment over the past 12 months – compared with less than 1% of men.

MPs also discovered a lack of faith among women in the complaints system, with six in 10 telling the survey they did not report bullying, harassment or discrimination. Of those who did complain, a third rated the experience “extremely poor”.

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SOURCE: The Guardian, Mark Townsend

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