Army orgies ‘fairly common’ amid ‘slut-shaming’ culture of women, whistleblower says

Exclusive: ‘I find raising children in this environment very scary,’ says woman living on military estate

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 20 June 2022 13:50 BST
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Soldiers allegedly insist culture is ‘just boys being boys’ (File photo)
Soldiers allegedly insist culture is ‘just boys being boys’ (File photo) (PA Archive)

A whistleblower has said orgies in the army are fairly common as she warned the recent incident at Merlville Baracks points to a wider culture of misogyny in the armed forces which views women as “lesser beings”.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent , the woman, who previously worked in recruitment for the British Army, said the institution often felt like a throwback to the 1950s.

It comes after a group of paratroopers were put under military police investigation after footage surfaced of them having an orgy with a civilian woman at Merville Barracks - a military base in Colchester.

Video clips, seen by The Independent, show a woman having sex with troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade while others watched. Some of the soldiers can be seen laughing.

In other clip, a man asks “have you had a go yet?”, while another troop salutes while having sex. The video, which includes some half-naked and fully naked soldiers, shows sexual acts occurring in both communal places and private rooms, but it is not immediately clear when it happened.

Talking to The Independent from a military estate where she lives with her husband who is in the army, the woman said an ex-soldier, who she hadn’t heard from in months, had sent her 11 unsolicited highly graphic videos of the incident at Merlville.

She found the footage “extremely distressing and disturbing” and said it gave her nightmares, explaining that even if the encounter was consensual, the fact the soldiers can be heard “laughing” and mocking the woman was “degrading”.

“It is misogynistic,” she added. “It is an embarrassment to the army. It shows a serious lack of professionalism and decent human behaviour in general.”

Her comments come as General Sir Patrick Sanders, the army’s new head, announced hundreds of paratroops were barred from a Nato deployment to the Balkans following the incident, because he was unwilling to “risk the mission or the reputation of the British army” by sending the troops abroad.

But the whistleblower said stories of group sex similar to what occurred at Merlville, were commonpace in the army, claiming some soldiers would say such incidents were “normal”, insisting “it is just boys being boys”.

She added: “I find raising children in this environment very scary. Among many men in the army, there is the assumption women are joining the army for sex, or at least they must expect that to happen if they do join.

“I’ve seen a lot of slut-shaming. In general it is assumed that females in the military must be sleeping with multiple members of the Battalion.”

She described the armed forces as having a “very sexually charged culture” plagued with the commonly held view that women are “objects for the pleasure of men”.

When my husband helps with parenting, he is commonly told this should be my job and he is mocked and fellow soldiers question my motherhood skills.

Whistleblower

The whistleblower said: “In my experience, the sexual culture is really rife when soldiers are young and living in the block. Sometimes women are snuck in inside the boot of people’s cars. The drinking culture is something else.

“You hear stories of single soldiers living on the block drinking every weekend, fights consistently happening, and property being damaged. When soldiers get married then it can move into swinging.”

Discussing her own negative experiences of working in military recruitment, she said she stepped down after facing sexual harassment, sexism and gender-based discrimination.

She said it felt “hyprocritical” being asked to encourage women to join the army given her own experiences.

The whistleblower added: “I’m not surprised women face sexual harassment and assault in the army given it starts in the recruitment process.

“The people who are doing the recruitment process are biased. They have judgements about women being in the army, they don’t believe they can do it. They refer to women in derogatory ways. They think the standards for women aren’t as high. They talk about the fact women have their periods.”

She claimed most of the male soldiers she encountered did not believe women should be in the army. The whisteblower said she was aware of around half a dozen women submitting complaints about sexual harssment, sexism and gender-based discrimination at one recruitment centre in particular.

The whistleblower said she had met five women who say they were raped while serving in the military. She said women in senior roles were often referred to as having got their position “by sleeping their way there”, and explained when she made “an effort” with her appearance she was subjected to degrading sexual comments.

“Although the army has made all roles open to women, the army itself is not open to women,” she concluded. “You have to be willing to act like a man to be accepted. This means put up with discrimination, sexism, sexual harassment, and misogynistic jokes and banter about rape.”

She said the army fostered a culture where soldiers are expected to keep their wives or partners in line and tell them what to do. While her husband loves his job, he also thinks army attitudes towards women - both military and civilian - are outdated, the whistleblower said.

She added: “He will tell me before we go to a function, if higher ranking men are doing a speech, I must not go to the toilet, otherwise he could be given extra duties - which means getting crap jobs to do.

“When my husband helps with parenting, he is commonly told this should be my job and he is mocked and fellow soldiers question my motherhood skills.”

Issues within the army are easily concealed due to it being an insular environment, the whistleblower added, noting the armed forces take on many young men and women who are escaping difficult backgrounds.

She added: “It can be make or break. That environment can save them. But it is also very easy to teach an unacceptable culture rather than nurture them into decent human beings.

“If you are brought up in an environment where abuse was normal, and then you join the army and nobody is saying: ‘No that is not okay’, or are actually actively allowing bad behaviour or not taking it seriously, it is very damaging to the soldiers.”

The woman’s comments come after senior figures previously told The Independent progress on tackling sexism and sexual harassment in the armed forces has been too slow and women in the military often face a sexist culture of “laddish behaviour”. Meanwhile, MPs have rasied concern that convictions rates for rape and sexual assault cases remain “shamefully low” in the military.

A troubling report released last year found sexual harassment, bullying and physical assault of women is prevalent in the armed forces.

Researchers, who polled 750 women veterans, discovered almost a quarter reported having experienced sexual harassment, while almost a quarter said they had been subjected to emotional bullying. The report, published in BMJ Military Health, found five per cent were sexually assaulted and three per cent physically assaulted.

Women make up around 11 per cent of the armed forces in the UK, according to Ministry of Defence data.

The army did not want to comment on the whisleblower’s allegations.

But in response to the Merlville incident, General Sanders said: “The recent conduct of some members of the battalion has fallen short of that which we all expect of our army”.

A spokesperson for the army added: “The army expects the highest standards of behaviour from all their personnel. Anyone not maintaining these standards will be investigated and appropriate action will be taken against them. The army is clear that all forms of unacceptable behaviour, including those of a sexual nature, have no place in an inclusive and respectful armed forces.”

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