THE BLOG

MoD Is 'Lagging Behind' in Its Handling of Allegations of Rape and Sexual Assault

06/03/2014 12:42 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 10:59 BST

Five years after the crimes were committed, the army has apologised to the family of a military policewoman who committed suicide after a coroner said that rape and bullying by other soldiers were factors in the officer's death. This case has raised concerns about how such allegations are dealt with by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Delivering a verdict of suicide, coroner Nicholas Rheinberg called on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to review its care of vulnerable soldiers. The inquest revealed that the 30-year-old Corporal, Anne-Marie Ellement, endured a bullying campaign after she alleged that two colleagues had raped her following a night out in Germany, where she was stationed, in 2009.

The circumstances in this case demonstrate that the MoD is lagging decades behind the rest of the country in dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and with their consequences. Its protocols are full of good intentions but in reality they are extremely difficult to put into practice. A review of the MoD's on-the-ground procedures for dealing with stress management, bullying and sexual harassment should take place as a matter of urgency.

Perhaps the most remarkable element of this particular inquest is that two of them were needed. This is because evidence of the alleged rape was not heard at the initial hearing. This seems to suggest that the military is not treating such allegations as important as they should. When dealing with claims for those who have suffered injury as a result of some military negligence, we often come across shockingly bad behaviour that is inadequately or insensitively investigated. If the military fails to deal properly with both the perpetrators and those who have had the courage to complain about the treatment they have received, it can lead to terrible stress and, potentially, the loss of the victim's career.

Statistics recently released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that 75 rape allegations and 150 alleged sexual assaults were reported to military police in the three years from 2011 to 2013. Concerns have also been raised that many more sex attacks go unnoticed, which is particularly worrying and underlines the call for urgency to change the way such allegations are dealt with.

Speaking at the inquest, the coroner was quite right to point to an apparent 'lack of coordination and imagination' from the MoD when it comes to managing vulnerable personnel or anyone who has made as allegation of rape or harassment. After all, there is no workplace in the country where such behaviour would be tolerated. The time has come for the MoD to make changes and review its system for handling such investigations. By acting they can help to ensure that alleged victims - and indeed alleged perpetrators, are not subjected to unnecessary stress.

Philippa Tuckman is a partner and military injury claims specialist at Bolt Burdon Kemp.