Research perspectives

Discrimination gets ‘marching orders’ in Armed Forces

A review by Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston into inappropriate behaviour in the military has found an “unacceptable level” of inappropriate behaviour in the UK Armed Forces and a “sub-optimal” system for dealing with it. The review says the “new generation” of armed forces personnel are led by 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”.

The review follows reports many instances of inappropriate and allegedly unlawful behaviour, including an alleged sexual assault that led to the arrest of six soldiers. In the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey in 2018 twelve per cent of respondents said they had been subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination in the preceding 12 months; and around a quarter of complaints made to the Service Complaints Ombudsman in 2018 were about bullying, harassment or discrimination with BAME and women personnel overrepresented in the complaints system for the third consecutive year. There was also a significant increase in the number of sexual offences investigated by the Service Police: 153 investigations were carried out in 2018, resulting in 21 people being found guilty of 30 offences. The majority of those convicted were males from lower ranks, with junior women making up the majority of victims.

 In this context Wigston found that only 6% of service personnel had made a formal complaint. The most common reasons why they did not speak up included not believing anything would be done (63%); thinking it would adversely affect their career (50%); and not wanting to use the complaints procedure (30%), which the report says demonstrates a lack of trust in the complaints process.

In response to Wigston’s report, the MoD has said it would overhaul its complaints system so that the most serious allegations are investigated quickly and, where appropriate, outside the chain of command. New routes to anonymously report inappropriate behaviour will also be introduced, as well as a  Defence Authority to oversee how inappropriate behaviour is being tackled and to establish best practice. Mandatory diversity and inclusion training is also to be introduced, while a new harassment survey in 2021 will track data on the culture change across the MoD.