Reports Reveal Alarming Cases of Sexual Assault in the Military

Men and women have served side by side in the UK’s armed forces for decades. A landmark change in policy came in 2016 when women were allowed to operate in combat roles for the first time. Females account for roughly 12% of all military personnel. Despite being a significant minority, women play a critical role across all three armed forces.

Everyone should have the opportunity to serve their country without fear of harassment or discrimination, but sadly that’s not always the case according to reports. Despite claims from the Ministry of Defence that action has been and is being taken, reports continue to be filed in alarming circumstances for the military.

Reports of sexual assault at an all-time high

2022 saw a significant increase in reports of sexual assault in the UK’s armed forces, predominantly committed by men on women.

The Mirror reported that the number of rapes on military bases had doubled in 6 years. 200 women filed reports of abuse in the esteemed military academy at Sandhurst. Cases aren’t all recent, reports date back further than two decades – signalling a systemic issue in the armed forces.

Military institutions have been tasked with eliminating toxic cultures and misogynistic attitudes in these environments that have traditionally been male-dominated, although that’s no justification.

Figures from the MoD itself highlight a 43% increase in sexual offence investigations in the last year, perhaps indicating that victims are feeling more empowered to report abuse and reach out to military solicitors. The issue seems to be deeply rooted, but what’s being done by those responsible for change?

What’s being done by the military?

There have been positive developments to combat the seemingly extensive issues across the armed forces.

A new investigative unit was launched in 2022, responsible for handling serious criminal offences (including rape and sexual assault) in military settings. The Defence Serious Crime Command (DSCC) and Defence Serious Crime Unit (DSCU) have the authority to operate outside of the usual chains of command to give more protection to victims.

It’s a significant step to bypass authority and has received much criticism from senior ranking staff, but it’s hoped that it will allow offences to be dealt with much more competently and transparently.

The DSCC includes the Victim Witness Care Unit (VWCU), which serves to provide victims with greater support through the justice process. These recent implementations are good signs for the UK’s armed forces and the welfare of its women and sexual abuse victims.

Should civilian courts have authority over these cases?

There have been long-standing calls to move sexual offence cases in the military into civilian justice systems. Military courts, as part of the service justice system (SJS), operate separately from civilian courts.

Many have argued that women are treated unfairly and justice is not delivered in military courts. The majority of rape charges end in no conviction, according to an article from The Guardian last year.

Bringing military charges into civilian courts could increase conviction rates and see harsher punishments for sex offenders found guilty. However, traversing the barriers between the two justice systems is proving to be a difficult task with the authority and tradition of military courts.

There is clearly a deep-rooted issue in the UK’s armed forces, but steps are being taken to improve the situation. Everyone deserves to serve their country without suffering abuse or harassment, hopefully, the latest interventions can do more to make the military a safer place for women.