Rape and sexual assaults in the military need more than ‘kangaroo court’ justice | Joe Glenton

Informal and unaccountable ‘in-house’ procedures mean hundreds of allegations go unquestioned

The foreign secretary, William Hague, has called for an end to the use of sexual violence in war as part of the fine and timely crusade he has taken up alongside movie star Angelina Jolie. An inquest into the death of corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, a military policewoman who killed herself in 2011 after claiming she was raped by army colleagues, has fixed a spotlight on the issue of sexual violence within the British military. Today the coroner found Ellement killed herself in part due to bullying in the army and the effects of alleged rape. It has also emerged that of 200 allegations of rape and sexual assault between 2011 and 2013 in the military, there have only been 27 convictions.

To begin to understand the British military on any level it is best to start with a round of myth busting. Let us dispense with the idea that the British military is in a meaningful sense a slightly quaint but essentially harmonious family. Healthy families do not regularly inflict acts of sexual violence upon each other, and in the British forces rapes and sexual assaults seem to have become something of a banality. No comparable professional group in the UK appears to rival the military for rates of colleague-on-colleague sexual violence. I would argue this stems from a poisonous mix of unchallenged sexism, unaccountable power and an archaic military justice system.

One need not stoop to abstract identity politics to see that women are routinely diminished, downtrodden and sexualised out here in the real world. Yet in the military they are demeaned far more intensely. The general army consensus runs roughly as follows: despite the decorative value of certain specimens, “birds” are physically weak, consistently stupid and ditzy, and prone to skiving off physical training by claiming they have women problems. They can also smell nice, which is very distracting, and they talk excessively and won’t put out when required. All of which leaves a young warrior wondering what the point of having them around actually is?

Bear in mind that I say this after serving in a corps that actually contained women. Many military units do not. Does this kind of attitude lend itself to a culture of sexual violence? I would suggest it does. This kind of ingrained prejudice also goes some way to explaining the findings of a leaked 2012 survey of army personnel in which, quite regardless of rank, every female questioned said they had been a victim of sexual harassment. If we then add unaccountable power – the very stuff the military runs on – into the mix, the picture gets even bleaker.

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