Women in British army facing bullying, sexual harassment and assault, study finds

·3 min read

Women in the UK military are suffering emotional bullying, sexual harassment and physical assault, new research suggests.

Those most likely to have suffered bad treatment were most likely to be younger, have held the rank of officer, or had a combat support role, the study published in the BMJ Military Health journal found.

Of the 750 women veterans who were included in the study, some 22.5% said they had been sexually harassed, while 5.1% said they were sexually assaulted.

Around 22.7% of the women said they had endured emotional bullying during their time in the armed forces, and 3.3% said they had been physically assaulted.

The team of British-based scientists called for military women to be urgently provided with more support.

Approximately 16,500 women currently serve in the UK military and they make up around 11% of personnel.

Women play a crucial role in the UK army and have been a formal part of it for more than 100 years, and since 2018, they have been able to serve in all combat roles alongside their male counterparts.

Cases involving women in pain or fatigued due to the mental distress causes were "significantly" linked to sexual harassment, the study found, as well as for women having "a greater risk of alcohol difficulties".

Meanwhile, those who dealt with emotional bullying were more likely to have to cope with anxiety, depression, low social support and loneliness issues.

Military women who held a rank as an officer were at greater risk of sexual harassment as well as emotional bullying, the research found.

Scientists said that "even women holding higher power positions may be at risk of victimisation from their own superiors".

They added that since women were in a minority in the military, "it cannot be ruled out that victimisation of women holding higher ranks may be perpetrated by their own peers as well as those in lower ranks".

"Many women do not report adverse service experiences due to fear of the consequences of doing so and may continue to suffer from increased mental health distress during and after military service," the study says.

"It is essential to consider whether current reporting procedures may not provide sufficient confidentiality to encourage women to report adverse experiences and more appropriate disclosing procedures should be considered.

"Furthermore, it is essential to consider whether existing support is adequate to support the mental health needs of women who experienced military adversity."

They suggest whether organisational and leadership changes can be made to better protect women serving in the armed forces.

Further research is needed and no solid conclusions can be drawn about the cause and effect behind the study's findings since it was an observational study, the scientists said.

The study involved women mostly aged over 61, who answered questions about their experiences of their careers in the military.

Scientists said it was also based around self-reported events, which means it could under-estimate or over-estimate the true picture of what was experienced.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: "We are committed to improving the experience for women in the armed forces in every area of their lives and do not tolerate abuse, bullying, harassment or discrimination.

"We have taken a range 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 24/7 confidential and independent whole-force bullying, harassment and discrimination helpline with trained advisors to support personnel.

"All allegations are taken very seriously, with unlawful behaviour investigated by the relevant police service as necessary."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting