Calls for rape cases to be shifted to military courts as whistleblowers expose abuses
The Ps have again called on the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to remove rape cases from the court-martial system, as tips from whistleblowers suggested ongoing sexual abuse within the armed forces.
A female soldier reported a rape at a base but was told her attacker would remain with his elite unit, according to written submissions presented to the House of Commons Defense Committee.
Another is said to have been groped and forcefully kissed by a male colleague at a Christmas party before allegedly being told by her manager to “understand that things are getting a little out of hand”.
The cases presented in this evidence are heartbreaking and reveal serious flaws within the military justice system and chain of command
Conservative MP Sarah Atherton, chair of the Defense Subcommittee on Women in the Armed Forces, said the submissions strengthened the group’s view that rape and sexual assault cases within the military service should be dealt with in civilian courts.
The move was first proposed after a 2021 parliamentary report on the experience of servicewomen, but the Ministry of Defense rejected the recommendation.
The statements were made by uniformed and civilian doctors and administrative support staff who looked after military personnel and their superiors.
They have been anonymized, as have the personnel to whom their claims relate, the committee said.
The case studies paint a damning picture of progress in addressing servicewomen protection failings first revealed in the 2021 report.
The Department of Defense introduced new measures following the review, saying last year that its policies “will ensure the defense continues to address unacceptable sexual behavior.”
But Ms Atherton said that despite the “willingness to bring about change… serious problems remain”.
According to the evidence, the raped woman was taken against her will across the country to separate her from her attacker.
She was placed in temporary accommodation, where she “often heard unfamiliar men in the hallway outside her room and had trouble sleeping, pushing furniture out front and not leaving her room for days in fear of the men outside her door.” it in the written opinion.
They are often made to feel as if they have to choose between justice and their careers while appearing to protect abusers
The move was presented as a way to help her access therapy for the trauma caused by the rape, but it took more than a year for this to happen due to problems in the system, staffers said.
Another case study described a “young female soldier in training who awoke in her room on base to find that a male training staff member was smelling her underwear; Before that, she woke up to find him watching her sleep.”
It continued, “She describes how on another occasion he pinned her against a wall and told her that her real reason for joining the military service was to ‘get that leg as far over her shoulder as possible.’ .”
The written submissions say that few of the case studies involved women who reported incidents through an official grievance mechanism, but one woman who did eventually left the service with mental health issues, while her alleged abusers “continued to serve and… had success”.
Among the reforms presented by the Department of Defense after the subcommittee’s initial report was the removal of the chain of command from the appeals process.
Other measures included a review of increased powers to expel people accused of sexual offenses and greater independence in the complaints procedure for allegations of bullying and harassment.
However, the Department of Defense rejected the recommendation to move rape and sexual assault cases from military courts to the civilian system.
It takes a lot of thought and courage to speak up under these circumstances. I want to thank the witnesses and everyone who was willing to have their stories told
According to the 2021 subcommittee findings, conviction rates in military courts were four to six times lower than in civilian courts.
Ms Atherton said: “The cases presented in this evidence are heartbreaking and demonstrate serious flaws within the military justice system and chain of command.”
“Sexual assault and rape are heinous crimes. As this document shows, when faced with such crimes in the armed forces, women soldiers often feel they have no choice but to “shut up”.
“They are often made to feel like they have to choose between justice and their careers while appearing to protect abusers.
It has been almost two years since the Defense Committee published the report Women in the Armed Forces: Protecting Those Who Protect Us. The response from the Department of Defense at the time was mostly positive and showed a willingness to bring about change.
“However, this damning evidence shows that serious problems remain. It reinforces our belief that the complaints system is not working as it should and that criminal cases of sexual assault and rape need to be removed from the official justice system and referred to civil courts.
“The evidence also speaks to a broader culture of institutional misogyny: looking the other way and discouraging victims from speaking up, while senior executives hide behind the ‘boys stay boys’ excuse.” If we are to address these issues at a fundamental cultural level, there is a need a considered and strategic response led by respected military figures.
“It takes a lot of thought and courage to speak out under these circumstances. I want to thank the witnesses and everyone who agreed to have their stories told.”
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace pointed out that in 2021 there had been insufficient evidence that moving sexual assault cases out of the military courts would improve the system, in addition to the other recommendations the department had adopted.
Mr Wallace said on Thursday he had not had time to read the latest evidence in full but insisted “things are changing and getting better” in the armed forces.
“I went to great lengths to adopt Sarah Atherton’s recommendations,” he said at a news conference in Northwood.
“The only difference between us was that there was no real evidence that this would make any difference after all the actions we took.”
A Defense Department spokesman said: “The experiences presented in these cases are totally unacceptable. No one should be exposed to these incidents and any form of sexual assault, bullying, harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated.
“We want staff to have the confidence to report crime. Building that trust in the judiciary is why we created the Independent Serious Crime Unit, which has the power to investigate crimes anywhere in the world, and ensured that complaints of bullying, harassment or discrimination outside be processed in the chain of command.
“These measures come with a comprehensive package of improvements, including a new victim and witness support unit, and policy reforms such as our new zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable sexual behavior – which will ensure anyone convicted of a sex offense is dismissed from the service becomes.”
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/mod-women-mps-ministry-of-defence-ben-wallace-b1082095.html Calls for rape cases to be shifted to military courts as whistleblowers expose abuses