MoD sexual abuse allegations: Prospect asks EHRC to investigate

Union says Ministry of Defence may be failing to meet its "obligation under law to ensure equality for its employees"
MoD. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

15 Jan 2024

Civil service union Prospect has urged the equalities watchdog to investigate the Ministry of Defence after dozens of female officials made allegations of sexual assault, harassment and abuse in the department.

Prospect has written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking for it to look into whether the MoD is failing in its Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).

It comes after 60 female senior civil servants published an open letter about sexual harassment in the MoD in November. The officials described the workplace culture as “hostile to women as equal and respected partners” and said their “day-to-day professional lives are made difficult thanks to behaviours that would be considered toxic and inappropriate in public life, but that are tolerated at the MoD”.

Prospect said it has since been contacted by more of its own members who have experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault. This includes an official who has alleged sexual assaults by three colleagues. 

The letter to the EHRC says: “We are increasingly concerned that the MoD has failed to comply with its obligations under the PSED, in particular the requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010.

“As the body responsible for enforcing the PSED and monitoring compliance, we ask that the Equality and Human Rights Commission urgently investigates the MoD's compliance with the general and specific duties under the PSED.”  

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “The MoD has an obligation under law to ensure equality for its employees. Recent revelations about a culture of sexual harassment and abuse within the ministry, and a failure to take action on that culture, suggest that the MoD is failing to meet that obligation. 

“It is our hope that the EHRC will investigate this matter and force the MoD to take appropriate action to ensure equality and a safe working environment for its female employees."

Clancy added: “It is frankly ridiculous that in 2023 a government department should have to be compelled to take action when employees are being sexually harassed and assaulted in this way. It’s time they properly engaged with unions to put adequate systems in place to protect their workforce and root out unacceptable behaviour.”

In September 2022, Prospect wrote to the MoD on behalf of the joint trade unions, calling for a review of bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation policies and procedures, including provision on timelines for process completion. But the union said there has been “no meaningful engagement” since on this request. 

 A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Harassment and discrimination is not tolerated and no one should be made to feel unsafe. We are committed to stamping this out and we continue to encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed unacceptable behaviour, to report it immediately.”

A spokesperson for the EHRC said the organisation "receives complaints each week about allegations of unlawful activity contrary to the Equality Act 2010" and considers each complaint "carefully", taking action "where appropriate".

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