One in five female Navy personnel, one in eight Army personnel and nearly one in 10 RAF personel have been subject to sexual harassment, the Equal Opportunities Commission revealed yesterday.
In response to new evidence of the culture of sexual harassment in the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence has been forced to sign an agreement with the EOC to take action on the issue, in order to fend off massive, unprecedented legal action under the Sex Discrimination Act.
The agreement, signed by Defence Secretary John Reid, sets out a wide-ranging action plan to tackle the problem, including surveys and discussion groups with service men and women, reform of complaints procedures and increased awareness of sexual harassment and how it can damage operational effectiveness.
Dr Reid said: “We take our responsibility to prevent and deal effectively with sexual harassment extremely seriously and this Agreement demonstrates our commitment.
“A great deal of work has been done to get our diversity and equality policies right, but we recognise that sexual harassment stills exists in the Armed Forces and more needs to be done to embed our policies into Service culture at every level.”
Jenny Watson, acting chair of the EOC, said: “By signing this Agreement, the MOD has recognised the need to urgently and systematically tackle sexual harassment in the Armed Forces. We share a common view that nobody should have to suffer harassment \x96 and if they do, they should have the confidence that their complaints will be dealt with efficiently.
“On the basis of complaints received by the EOC, information supplied by the MOD, and the findings of the Armed Forces’ own surveys, there is clear evidence that, despite the efforts that have been made, significant sexual harassment still exists across the Armed Forces. This would justify a Formal Investigation using our legal powers, however, we have chosen to suspend the Investigation as the MOD has convinced us that they are going to take decisive and immediate action to tackle the problem.
“Creating a culture where everybody is treated fairly and decently, and dealing with complaints properly if they arise, is an essential part of building any successful modern organisation. The MOD is no exception. It needs to build a strong and highly-motivated team if it is to fulfil the commitments we ask of it.
“We are confident that their work over the next three years will improve working conditions for thousands of service women. We look forward to working with the MOD to help them bring about real and long-lasting organisational change.”