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Complaints of sexual offenses in the armed forces will now be handled outside the chain of command, but the military police will retain the right to investigate allegations of rape, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

The government’s commitment came in response to a landmark parliamentary inquiry into the experiences of women who serve or have served in the armed forces, though it has been criticized for not going far enough with calls that only women Civilian forces should investigate allegations of rape and sexual abuse.

Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP who chaired the inquiry, said she believed that “the fact that a female military can now safely file a sex complaint knowing that her direct chain of command will not deal with it. not is a huge step forward “.

But she added that it was “disappointing” that the Defense Ministry refused to remove rape investigations from the court martial system “despite clear evidence that the current system does not do justice.”

Labor has also said an opportunity was missed to remove rape cases from the military system. Shadow Deputy Defense Minister Stephanie Peacock said: “Without addressing these issues head-on, the government will never tackle sexual harassment in the military on the scale it exists, let alone will provide the necessary support to help those who have experienced it. . “

Atherton’s investigation, undertaken by a special subcommittee of the defense committee, found that “six in 10 women” in the forces who had suffered abuse had not complained “for fear of the impact. that it would have on their careers, or because they thought nothing would be done ”.

He gathered testimonies from more than 4,100 women who had served in the military or who were still serving. Overall, two-thirds of those who responded said they had experienced intimidation, sexual harassment and discrimination – and the report concluded that the armed forces were “not protecting” female recruits.

There were specific accounts of gang rape, sex for promotion or advancement, and trophies or contests to “bag women” on the camp or on ships. Some women said they were intimidated for refusing sexual advances or admitted that they had seen co-workers being assaulted but were too scared to report it.

The armed forces have been battered by allegations of harassment and abuse in recent weeks, including the unsolved murder in 2012 of Agnes Wanjiru, 21, a Kenyan hairstylist who turned to sex work to support children. needs of his family. It has been alleged that a British soldier confessed to his murder to colleagues, his identity being an open secret within the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment for years.

Responding formally to the inquiry on Thursday, the defense ministry said “all service complaints of a sexual nature should be dealt with entirely outside the direct chain of command.” Each of the departments would use investigators independent of the central units, while decisions and appeals would also be heard independently.

But he added that Ben Wallace, Secretary of Defense, had previously decided to retain “the existing principle of concurrency” between civilian and military police – in which either one can investigate an allegation of rape, sexual assault or other serious crimes, as long as it is believed to have occurred in the UK.

Rape conviction rates are much lower in the military justice system, the Atherton investigation noted. He cited official figures that said the average conviction rate for rapes heard by courts martial between 2015 and 2020 was around 16%, compared to 34% in the civilian system. Rape and other serious cases have only been dealt with by the military police and the court martial system since 2006, he added.

The Defense Ministry also announced that it wants to significantly increase the proportion of women serving in the armed forces and set a new target that 30% of new recruits should be women by 2030.

Women currently represent 11% of the force’s personnel, with the proportion of new recruits slightly higher at 12.6% among regulars and reservists. But that remains well below an existing target of 15%.

Wallace said it was clear from Atherton’s report that further changes were needed. “I am grateful to all of the women who contributed to the defense committee report, we have listened intently and are implementing bold changes in response,” he said.

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