The United Kingdom’s military is sending an unfortunate message to would-be sexual assaulters within its ranks: consequences are lenient and infrequent.
Per the 2006 Armed Forces Act, the fate of sexual assault reports filed by members of the military are at the whim of superior officers. Rather than turning the matter over to police to conduct an investigation, a commanding officer has the discretion to handle the matter “internally,” if at all. These officers can also choose to take no action whatsoever.
Technically, the rules stipulate that this course of (in)action can only occur for “lesser sexual offenses,” whatever that means, but it appears that some commanding officers have even seen fit to disregard accusations of rape.
Though these low standards have been in place for nearly a decade, this miscarriage of justice has come to more prominent attention following the recent suicide of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement. Allegedly, a pair of Royal Military officers raped Ellement. When she reported the crime to her commanding officer, he informed her that there was insufficient evidence to pursue the matter further, and Ellement’s purported rapists stayed on duty without formal reprimand. Worse still, colleagues subsequently bullied her for daring to report the incident in the first place.
Feeling helpless, Ellement ultimately took her own life. While military regulations should have had Ellement on suicide watch following her rape report, she received no such support due to a clerical error. “[Ellement] joined the Military Police because she believed in justice and knew the difference between right and wrong,” said her sister, Khristina Swain. “That’s why it was such a devastating blow when she didn’t get it herself.”
With rules that allow military sexual assaults to go unpunished, tragic outcomes like this one are inevitable. Just look at the United States for an example of how military rule over internal rape cases is utterly ineffective:
Alas, statistics for the number of military sexual assault cases are practically non-existent in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether these instances are as a commonplace as they are in the United States or not nearly as prevalent. The very fact that studies of this type have not been conducted is indicative of a culture willing to overlook this problem. Regardless of how many British soldiers are victims of sexual assault, the relaxed approach to handling these actions is entirely inappropriate.
Currently, there is a petition addressed to the UK Defense Secretary, Philip Hammond, urging him to take military sexual assault cases more seriously. The U.K should not follow the United States’ poor example of keeping reports non-transparent and outside of normal legal jurisdiction that would apply to civilians.
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