According to a bombshell report by Vice World News, the sexual harassment, assault and rape of under-18 girls in the British military is at a record high. The numbers show a major epidemic in the issue during training courses held last year. Such revelations by the publication have been exposed in a time in which British Armed Forces have focused on recruiting more women into its ranks.
Such promotional material to get women to enlist—through the marketing of gender equality and career progression—is ironic in the face of reports that prove a serious lack of protection for its female trainees and wider female military members.
This systemic issue in the institution is evidenced by exclusively confirmed data by Vice that three members of staff at the UK’s Army training college for under 18s, Army Foundation College (AFC) Harrogate faced accusations of sexual abuse by their students in the last year.
This lack of protection only proves more harrowing as a large number of the victims cited as part of the report were just teenagers or early new recruits. With the age to enlist currently set at 16, figures of assault have only increased rapidly in the past five to seven years. In Freedom of Information requests obtained from Child Rights International Network (CRIN), Vice found accusations increased fivefold from the previous year.
In 2021 there was a rapid boost of reports from minors of sexual assaults and rape allegations, with 10 known victims being listed. This year, in 2022, the number has skyrocketed to 47 teenagers at victim of sexual violence, harassment or abuse—this was made up of 37 girls and 10 boys. “There are only 240 girls of this age currently signed up—there were 290 during the period of the attacks—meaning more than 1 in 10 girls enlisted has said they have been assaulted,” Vice wrote on the figures.
The issue seems to be somewhat endemic to the base in AFC Harrogate where 22 of the 47 victims listed above attended this specific training centre and where the accused attacks took place. What makes the matter worse is that active service members (including under-18s) are restrained from speaking out to external authorities like the media with gagging orders. Even as veterans, the culture of keeping secrets for fear of backlash remains.
The report in Vice also showed that women often faced severe harassment and repercussions for coming forward, with evidence proving an “unfit” military policing structure that fails to prosecute any sex-related crime. “A lack of expertise in how to respond to allegations of sexual assaults at all causes very serious harm and more trauma,” Emma Norton, lawyer and founder of the Centre for Military Justice told the news outlet.
Small sections of testimonies were shared by soldiers who spoke to Vice. One female member shared, “They said we were ‘Wracs’—which stood for ‘weekly ration of army cunt’.” Another said: “I was once locked up in a wagon, tie-wrapped to a metal pallet and ended up at another military base in Yorkshire in the back of a curtain-sided lorry.”
A male ex-recruit (who was discharged due to being grievously bullied by colleagues) stated, “In the Army, women are to be considered ‘bikes or dykes’, and that was the attitude of most of the recruits and the instructors who endorse it.”
In fact, 35 per cent of women in the force’s Sexual Harassment Survey—which was carried out by the Ministry of Defence and the Equality and Human Rights Commission—reported experiencing such abuse, as per Vice’s account. According to findings from the publication, this is a 20 per cent surge from the last survey of this nature that was conducted in 2018.
Despite these staggering figures—more to be found and in astonishing detail in Vice’s report—little action seems to have taken place. What this exclusive investigation has proven is that there are huge and dire failings in each and every level within the Army that allows: sexual abuse to run rampant, predators to be protected and teenagers traumatised.