With his forces embroiled in allegations of pervasive sexual misconduct, Canada’s top soldier last year gave an order to his ranks: stop the deviant behaviour. Not everyone listened.
“I am extremely disappointed,” said Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance after learning almost 1,000 Forces members reported sexual assault over the past year. “My orders were clear, my expectations were clear. And those who choose, or chose, to not follow my orders will be dealt with … and as far as I’m concerned, I’m happy if they leave our ranks permanently.”
The Statistics Canada survey released Monday found a staggering 960 regular force members of the Canadian Armed Forces – almost two per cent of members – reported being sexually assaulted over the past year either while in the military workplace or in situations involving military members or National Defence employees or contractors.
And in the past year, female regular force members were four times more likely than males – 4.8 per cent to 1.2 per cent – to report being sexually assaulted over the past year, the survey found.
Vance’s strong words, the survey and ongoing commitment to addressing sexual misconduct and violence among his ranks has given some women hope.
“People weren’t taking this issue seriously until now,” said Glynis Rogers, the plaintiff in a proposed class action suit against the Armed Forces. “It was either put up with it, be in the military, or get out.”
Julie Lalonde, a public educator who also experienced first-hand the culture of misogyny in the military, said the numbers revealed in the survey didn’t surprise her.
“Shortly after Gen. Vance launched Operation Honour, they had to issue a memo to all members of the military, telling them not to call it ‘hop on her,’” she said. “That’s how much [sexual assault] is not taken seriously. That’s how much it’s mocked openly.”
Lalonde’s experience with sexual assault in the military came two years ago, when she was invited to the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., to train officer cadets on sexual violence prevention.
Once there, she was catcalled, chided for being a civilian and woman, called a liar and man hater.
Statistics Canada wasn’t able to directly compare the incident rate among military members to that of the general population, since sexual assault statistics in the general population aren’t limited to those occurring at work or involving co-workers. Still, the prevalence of sexual assault was lower among working Canadians – 0.9 per cent, compared to the 1.7 per cent of Forces members who reported.
Among Canadian Forces members, females were overwhelmingly more likely to experience sexual assault or harassment, with one in four female members saying they’d been targeted at least once during their careers.
Among female victims, their seniors were most often pegged as the alleged perpetrators. Male victims, however, most often pointed to one or more peers.
“We should all be concerned with the fact that women represent such a small percentage of the military, and yet they are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted,” Lalonde said. “And most of them are being assaulted up the chain of command … these are abuses of power.”
Vance ordered the survey in an effort to quantify the extent of the problem of sexual assault and misconduct in the military.
“I deeply regret the past,” he said. “I and my senior leaders are working tirelessly to make things better in the future.”
Another problem revealed in the federal survey is that some victims were not reporting incidents.
Fewer than one quarter reported at least one incident of sexual assault to someone in authority, and not even one in 10 – only seven per cent – reported to the Military Police or Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
“The fact that some won’t report, or hadn’t reported, or are concerned that their report won’t be taken seriously is a huge concern,” Vance said Monday.
“Reporting is a good thing. There will not be negative consequences. Negative consequences will be for all those who are perpetrators, not those who are reporting.”
Among those who didn’t report, 35 per cent of women, compared to 14 per cent of men said they didn’t report the victimization because they were worried about the possibility of reprisal, while 18 per cent of women and seven per cent of men said they had concerns about the complaint process.
Within the same group, forty-three per cent of women and 41 per cent of men who didn’t report said they chose not to because they resolved the matter on their own.
“We will do everything we can to make certain that people who ought to or think they should report because they’ve been harmed, that they will come forward,” Vance said.
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