It's typical of military to undermine victims writes PHILIP INGRAM

It’s typical of military to undermine victims. The system is designed to destroy people, writes former security officer PHILIP INGRAM

On an almost daily basis, victims of sexual harassment approach me from the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Army with horrifying stories, ranging from groping and pestering to allegations of rape. 

The sad fact is that the sexual misconduct on nuclear submarines, exposed by the Daily Mail at the weekend, is endemic across all three services of Britain’s armed forces.

And today the paper reports of yet another whistleblower – a sailor who claims she was raped and then viciously harassed by her fellow crew after she reported it.  Most of the courageous people who complain about sexual harassment in the forces are female. 

And there is a common theme: when they reported their allegations, a cover-up ensued. In many cases of sexual assault and misconduct, the perpetrators are more senior, using their position to bully and harass juniors. 

The sad fact is that the sexual misconduct on nuclear submarines, exposed by the Daily Mail at the weekend, is endemic across all three services of Britain’s armed forces (file image)

In many other cases, the senior officers don’t want to know, because their own careers might suffer as a result. They look for the quickest solution, which usually means redeploying or even ousting the person making the complaint – a system known in military slang as ‘posting the problem on’. It is nothing short of horrific. 

As co-founder of the Independent Defence Authority, which lobbies Parliament on behalf of service personnel and veterans, I am dealing with one ongoing case where a young female officer in the Red Arrows reported serious harassment. 

She has been threatened with being booted out. Because she has not dropped her complaint, her character is being smeared, her career attacked and her motivation for making the complaint questioned. 

This is typical of the tactics used by the military to smother allegations. The credibility of the complainant is undermined in a hideous pattern of obfuscation, denial, bullying and counter-charges. 

The victims are painted as bitter or unstable, and sidelined, sacked or court-martialled. It not only silences those who do complain, it deters others who might be thinking about it. 

The message is simple: keep your mouth shut. Those who speak out are set apart from others in their unit. Bullied, despised and isolated, many give up in despair and leave the forces. Some even have mental breakdowns. 

Suicides are tragically common – over 70 former service personnel take their own lives each year and, though records are not kept on how many of them have made complaints, sexual harassment is one factor. 

I served in the Army for 26 years, having commanded at every level including that of a battalion. 

I was the senior military human resources officer within defence intelligence and I know first-hand that these problems have become particularly widespread in recent years – while the services have not evolved to cope with this. 

The process of complaints in the military is designed to destroy people, not to help them. Too many people, from second lieutenants to generals, are concerned with protecting their own careers. 

They are active bystanders when complaints are made and, by walking past when they hear or witness inappropriate behaviour or ‘banter’, they effectively condone and enable it. 

And today the paper reports of yet another whistleblower – a sailor who claims she was raped and then viciously harassed by her fellow crew after she reported it. Most of the courageous people who complain about sexual harassment in the forces are female (file image)

Often, serious behaviour is not reported because victims fear their chain of command. Any complaint, sexual or not, has to be submitted to a senior officer. 

That’s how the system is set up. But there is virtually no professional training for any officers in complex human resource issues, such as sexual harassment or mental health. 

As a result, there is often no one in the chain of command who has the faintest idea how to proceed when they hear a complaint – except to try to brush it under the carpet. 

Allegations that would be dealt with swiftly and efficiently in private business are left to fester for years in the forces. An RAF officer told me she was subjected to constant sexual innuendos and threats on WhatsApp, including demands to meet senior officers. 

Her abuse escalated so much that one night, her senior officer hammered on the door of her room, demanding to be allowed in when she was in bed. In such a frightening situation, it is almost impossible for people to carry out their duties. 

And let me be clear: this has a serious effect on Britain’s ability to defend itself, at a time when European peace faces the greatest danger since the Second World War.

The sexual harassment crisis in our forces goes all the way to the top. The top brass are very good at making the right noises and insisting that all misconduct will be robustly dealt with. 

But the truth is that cases now coming to light have been brewing for years. We have to act to end this appalling scandal – not only for those whose lives are made so wretched, but for the security of our nation. 

Philip Ingram MBE is a former senior intelligence and security officer, and co-founder of the Independent Defence Authority

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