Revealed: half of RAF women are victims of sex harassment

Secret report shows shocking scale of bullying and abuse. Urgent call for Hoon to act on scandals in the services
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The Independent Online

Almost half of all women serving in the Royal Air Force have been sexually harassed, according to an internal report obtained by The Independent on Sunday.

Almost half of all women serving in the Royal Air Force have been sexually harassed, according to an internal report obtained by The Independent on Sunday.

The official research, carried out last year but kept secret, indicates that more than 1,000 women are currently enduring or have suffered sexual harassment in the past 12 months.

Victims are typically harassed by two or more male servicemen of a senior rank, the survey found. Most of the victims had been groped or subjected to sexually explicit remarks or gestures, but only half of them complained.

Most worrying for service chiefs is that the survey found that sexual harassment had increased since a similar report three years ago.

It concluded that "whilst people experience unacceptable behaviour, the majority tolerate it and do not complain especially because they feel it will not be taken seriously or will affect their career".

The secret research is revealed after a week in which the conduct of the British Army has been under intense scrutiny as three soldiers face a court martial for allegedly abusing Iraqi detainees.

The survey shows that bullying of both sexes is also widespread in the service: the RAF's own figures suggest more than 3,000 of its staff have been targeted within the past 12 months. The RAF has a total staff of 46,350, of whom 6,300 are women.

The findings of the survey mirror those of a similar report carried out in the Army. That survey found that nearly 90 per cent of soldiers believed bullying was taking place in the ranks.

The extent of bullying in Britain's armed forces came to light recently after a series of investigations into the suspicious deaths of four recruits at the Deepcut army barracks.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, was called on last night to take urgent action to force the armed forces to institute "fundamental reform" of its complaints system to protect victims.

Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokes-man, whose questioning forced the Ministry of Defence to release its research, said: "These figures raise grave questions about the level of bullying and sexual harassment in the service. The RAF must urgently institute fundamental reform of the complaints system, which is profoundly inadequate."

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday yesterday, one superior officer. "My complaint was investigated by a man who was in effect our boss, and the strong impression was that this was a case of senior ranks protecting themselves. I was transferred to another unit where I was ostracised to the extent that I eventually had to leave the base.

"The RAF is a small world and I knew that this would follow me wherever I went. So after 11 years I was forced to leave, while the sergeant about whom I had complained was promoted."

Ms Brumfitt, backed by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), was eventually awarded £30,000 after an industrial tribunal found that she had been victimised for making her complaint.

In a second case backed by the EOC, Flight Lieutenant Padraigin Byard won damages after a tribunal heard evidence that her male crew had placed a bounty on her head for the first to have sex with her.

In a scathing judgment in the 31-year-old's favour, the tribunal stated: "We heard too many instances of senior officers with sexist views which have no place in an organisation committed to equal opportunities and which are quite frankly illegal."

The figures for the number of women suffering sexual harassment over the past 12 months were extrapolated from responses to a survey stated in the document, A Summary of Extended Analysis of 2003 Sexual Harassment, Sexual Discrimination and Bullying Survey.

An MoD spokesman said: "Part of the reason for carrying out these surveys is to establish the extent of any problems and what needs to be done to address them."