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Military must lose power to police themselves after assault revelations

Ministry of Defence plaque

Military must lose power to police themselves after assault revelations

10 of the 290 young women who have joined the UK military this year have already reported being raped or sexually assaulted.

The figures were provided this week by the Ministry of Defence following a request under the Freedom of Information Act by the Child Rights International Network.

The statistics relate to young women aged 16 and 17. Between 2015 and 2020, one in every forty women aged under 18 in the forces reported rape or sexual assault to the Military Police, rising to one in every 29 this year.

Following the news, the Peace Pledge Union insisted that the armed forces must lose the power to police themselves, particularly in relation to rape and sexual assault.

The armed forces are the only institutions in the UK allowed to run their own criminal trials, as well as maintaining their own police force. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit people as young as 16 to the armed forces.

The PPU said that the armed forces are effectively operating above the law and are not held to account.

The Child Rights International Network have reiterated their call for the age of enlistment to be raised to 18, in line with international norms.

Researchers into sexual abuse have long noted that only a minority of sexual crimes are reported, meaning that the number of rapes and sexual assaults in the armed forces is likely to be much higher still.

The Lyons Review, commissioned in advance of this year's Armed Forces Bill, recommended that allegations of rape, sexual assault, murder and manslaughter in the armed forces should be dealt with by civilian police and civilian courts. Boris Johnson's government rejected an amendment that sought to include this provision in the Bill, which is now being debated in the House of Lords.

64% of female veterans say they experienced harassment, bullying or discrimination, according to a report published by the Defence Select Committee in July. The complaints process is so flawed that 89% of women experiencing such behaviour did not even make a complaint.

All the available data shows that sexual violence is rife within the armed forces," said Jess Amy Dixon, a writer and PPU member who is researching a PhD on the #MeToo movement. "To try these cases in military courts is absurd - members of the forces are not above the same laws as the rest of us and these cases should be tried in the same way."

News of the sexual assaults comes only days after the tragic death of Jethro Watson-Pickering, a 23-year-old British soldier who was killed on a training exercise in Wiltshire. The PPU pointed out that military leaders have not been held to account for a string of deaths on training exercises in recent years.

In 2018, a trial collapsed involving 16 army instructors accused of mistreating 16- and 17-year-old recruits. The Military Police had delayed investigating despite receiving dozens of allegations, due in part to what they described as pressure from “more urgent enquiries”. Critics expressed alarm over their priorities.

The armed forces' lack of accountability is also being discussed ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, as the military are exempt from carbon emissions targets.