Unions call for independent inquiry into sexual harassment at MoD

"Comprehensive" investigation is needed that makes binding recommendations for the Ministry of Defence, letter says
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A group of unions, sexual-violence charities and academics have called for an independent inquiry into sexual harassment in the Ministry of Defence.

The joint letter, which was coordinated by the Prospect union, follows a series of revelations about toxic sexual behaviour at the MoD.

In November, 50 female senior civil servants signed an open letter to MoD permanent secretary David Williams complaining of a “hostile” and “toxic” culture at the department.

The letter included anonymous testimonies of sexual assault, harassment and abuse, including instances where female staff described being “propositioned”, “groped” and “touched repeatedly” by male colleagues.

In a survey by Prospect in February, 61% of those working at the MoD said they had experienced sexual harassment at work and 11% said they had been sexually assaulted in a work-related setting.

The letter, which is signed by leaders of the Prospect, FDA and PCS unions, says that while the revelations have been “shocking, they are not surprising”.

“For too long, this type of behaviour has been excused as harmless ‘banter’ rather than recognised as representative of a toxic culture and exploitative power dynamics. There have been reports of this type of harassment for over 20 years, but still it has not been comprehensively addressed,” it reads.

“It is high time that there is a comprehensive and independent inquiry into sexual harassment in defence that listens to victims and makes binding recommendations for action by the MoD,” it adds.

“The defence of our nation needs and deserves the most talented people. We will not get them until the defence sector becomes a safe environment that protects everyone who works in it.”

The letter stresses that civil servants have “too often been victims” of sexual abuse as well as members of the armed services, “and it also affects those working for defence contractors sharing these workspaces too”.

Other signatories to the letter include representatives of Can’t buy my Silence, which campaigns against the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence victims; Times Up UK, which fights against discrimination in the workplace; and Rights of Women, which provides free legal advice focusing on violence against women and girls.

An MoD spokesperson said: “Sexual harassment is completely unacceptable, and we are committed to stamping it out wherever it is found. We encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed this kind of inexcusable conduct to report it immediately.

“As part of our plan to address instances of unacceptable behaviour, we launched a review of our complaints procedure in consultation with external bodies, including trade unions who are able to input.”

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