Revealed: The extent of abuse and sexual harassment of women in the British military

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Revealed: The extent of abuse and sexual harassment of women in the British military


Women suffer from severe and lasting physical and mental health problems due to ‘widespread’ emotional bullying, sexual harassment and physical assault in the British military, research reveals.

The people most likely to have undergone such treatment were younger personnel, those who had an officer rank or a combat or combat support role, according to findings published in the journal BMJ Military Health.

Of 750 female veterans surveyed, 22.5% said they had been sexually harassed, while 5.1% said they had been sexually assaulted. Emotional bullying was inflicted on 22.7% of these women, while 3.3% reported being physically assaulted.

The researchers found that sexual harassment in the forces triggered physical somatization, where mental distress caused women to suffer from physical symptoms such as pain or fatigue.

Sexual assault leads to alcohol problems, while emotional bullying triggers anxiety, depression and loneliness, according to research from the University of Oxford, King’s College London and the charity Combat Stress.

All types of abuse put women at higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, and different types of adversity had specific impacts on women’s mental health and well-being.

About 16,500 women serve in the British Army, where they make up about 11% of the personnel. All roles were opened to them, including deployment to frontline combat, in 2018.

Researchers believe the results show there is an urgent need to provide more support to women in the military.

Sexual harassment was “significantly” related to a situation where women found themselves in pain or fatigue due to mental distress.

Research also found that sexual assault may put women at “a greater risk of alcohol-related difficulties,” while emotional bullying left them with issues such as anxiety, depression, low social support and loneliness.

The study found that women who held officer rank were more prone to sexual harassment as well as emotional bullying, but scientists also state that “even women in higher positions of power can run the show. risk of being victimized by their own superiors ”.

Given that women are in the minority in the military, “it cannot be excluded that the victimization of women in higher ranks may be perpetrated by their own peers as well as those of lower ranks.”

The researchers cautioned that no definitive conclusions could be drawn about the causes and effects of their findings, as this was an observational study and more research was needed. The study was based on self-reported events, which means it might underestimate or overestimate the true picture of what was experienced.

But they added: “Many women do not report adverse service experiences for fear of the consequences of doing so and may continue to suffer from increased mental distress during and after military service.

“It is essential to determine whether current reporting procedures do not ensure sufficient confidentiality to encourage women to report adverse experiences and more appropriate disclosure procedures need to be considered. “

They said it might be useful to consider whether organizational and leadership changes could be made to better protect women in the military. “In addition, it is critical to determine whether the existing support is adequate to meet the mental health needs of women who have experienced military adversity,” they added.

A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry said: “[We] do not tolerate abuse, bullying, harassment or discrimination.

“We have taken a series of steps to improve the experiences of women in our armed forces, as we continue to do for all serving personnel. This includes launching a confidential and independent 24/7 bullying, harassment and discrimination hotline with counselors trained to support staff.

“All allegations are taken very seriously, with illegal behavior being investigated by the relevant police departments if necessary. “

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