MoD promises changes after report into harassment in army

Kevin Rawlinson
Photograph: Corporal Max Bryan Army/PA

The armed forces suffer from unacceptable levels of sexual offences, discrimination and bullying because of a pack mentality among the mostly white, middle-aged men who make up the senior ranks, a government report has found.

The Ministry of Defence has announced measures to persuade victims of such behaviours to come forward after the report concluded that many have stayed silent for fear of being seen as a troublemaker.

“Many simply consider that reporting inappropriate behaviour would get them nowhere,” according to the report by Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston, the new chief of the Air Staff.

The report was commissioned in April after allegations surfaced of a sexual assault against a teenage female soldier.

It said a “new generation” of armed forces personnel, including a greater proportion of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, women and other “underrepresented groups”, had “grown up in a more open and permissive society” than their forebears, it found.

However, those people now often find themselves “led by a cohort described by one external organisation as a ‘pack mentality of white middle-aged men, especially in positions of influence’ whose behaviours are shaped by the Armed Forces of 20 years ago”.

It added that a “significant number” of military personnel have experienced “bullying, discrimination and harassment, including sexual” and that there was a “deficit of trust” in complaints systems, with women and people of minority ethnic heritage more likely to find themselves dragged into disputes.

There have been “repeated suggestions” that those in the military are not reporting inappropriate behaviour because they fear the consequences of doing so, the report said.

It added that some personnel thinking about making complaints were worried about the “impact on their career prospects” and “being perceived as a trouble-maker”, while “many simply consider that reporting inappropriate behaviour would get them nowhere”.

The armed forces were also found to be lagging behind wider society in dealing with issues associated with the #MeToo movement, while the use of language in the military “can be inappropriate and offensive, simply through a lack of understanding of how it may be perceived by a minority group”.

In response, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the newly created Defence Authority will have a role in investigating allegations such as sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination and give personnel greater opportunities to make complaints anonymously.

Other measures included new compulsory diversity and inclusion training and a harassment survey will also be introduced in 2021 as part of a “shift in culture”, according to the department.

“While the great majority of service men and women go above and beyond what their duty demands of them, there is an unacceptable level of inappropriate behaviour in some areas,” the MoD said.

Inappropriate behaviour “has no place in society, let alone in our armed forces”, the defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt, added. “This report sends a clear message and I am committed to ensuring its recommendations are delivered in full.

“In addition to the report, I want to ensure non-commissioned officers are able to address poor behaviour when they see it. They are the moral compass of the armed forces.”