Hilary Meredith-Beckham responds to new evidence detailing sexual abuse of women in the Armed Forces
Solicitor Hilary Meredith-Beckham has today responded to new evidence detailing sexual abuse of women in the Armed Forces.
This morning, the Defence Committee publishes whistle-blower evidence from a team delivering clinical and occupational health care and advice to Service personnel and their Commands, from across the three Armed Services. Both the team and the cases included in the evidence have been anonymised.
This new evidence provides ten case studies and has been received by the Committee following its inquiry into Women in the Armed Forces. The cases include examples of alleged sexual assault and rape against Servicewomen.
Commenting on today’s new evidence, Hilary Meredith-Beckham, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:
“The whistleblower evidence in this report reveals shocking, ongoing sexual abuse within the Armed Forces. It is hard to read and even harder to comprehend. The MoD’s failure to respond, take matters seriously and support female victims of sexual abuse is truly appalling. Their lack of action is akin to aiding and abetting these awful crimes. The complaints system is clearly not fit for purpose.”
The evidence aims to “provide the Committee with an indication of both the nature and impact of sexual abuse that continues to be perpetrated against women in our armed forces.” It concludes that “a significant proportion of Servicewomen experience unwanted sexual behaviour in Service” and “many are reluctant to report or seek help.”
Case Study A:
A “junior Servicewoman” reports being “raped on base by someone with whom she’d been in a casual relationship”
The evidence states that a “GP advised her to ‘choose her partners more carefully in future’”
She reports that she was “persuaded by another GP to report the incident”
“However… it was deemed by the Chain of Command, in consultation with the GP who’d persuaded her to come forward, too important for the career of the rapist and the elite Unit he served in”
She says she “was moved across country, out of that elite Unit, against her will” and then “medically discharged from the Service, again against her will”
Case Study B:
The evidence reports that “a Servicewoman was groped, forcibly kissed, and exposed by a male colleague at a Unit Christmas party.”
She “eventually decided to report the incident to her Chain of Command”
“When she did so, her Chain of Command explained to her that it was Christmas, and a party, so ‘she should understand that things get a little out of hand’ and nothing was meant by it.”
“It was further suggested to her that she too has been drunk and raucous at work social events, so should understand.”
Case Study C:
“A young Servicewoman in training awoke in her room on base to find a male member of training staff smelling her underwear”, the evidence states. “Previously, she’d woken up to find him watching her sleeping”.
“She describes on another occasion him holding her against a wall and telling her that her real reason to join the Service was to ‘get the leg over as much as possible’”
The evidence states that “when she finally reported him to the senior training lead” she was “advised that her training would be cut short”
“She was then told that her case was too weak and the investigation would take time and resources not available in the Unit whilst in training.”
Chair of the Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces, Sarah Atherton MP, said: “The cases outlined in this evidence are heartrending and demonstrate serious failings within the military justice system and Chain of Command.
“Sexual assault and rape are heinous crimes. As this document shows, when these crimes take place in the Armed Forces, Servicewomen often feel they have no option but to ‘put up and shut up’. They are often made to feel as though they must choose between justice and their career, while perpetrators of abuse seem to be protected.
“It’s been nearly two years since the publication of the Defence Committee’s report ‘Women in the Armed Forces: Protecting those who protect us’. The Ministry of Defence’s response at the time was largely positive and demonstrated a willingness to affect change.
“However, this damning evidence shows that serious problems persist. It reinforces our view that the complaints system is not functioning as it should be, and that criminal cases of sexual assault and rape must be removed from the Service Justice System and handed over to civilian courts.
“The evidence also speaks to a wider culture of institutional misogyny: looking the other way and discouraging victims from coming forward, with senior personnel hiding behind the excuse of ‘boys will be boys’. If we are to tackle these issues at a fundamental cultural level, there needs to be a considered and strategic response led by respected figures within the military.
“It takes a lot of thought and courage to speak out in these circumstances. I would like to thank the witnesses and all those who agreed to allow their stories to be told.”