Beyond Deschamps: Addressing Sexual Harassment and Assault in the Military

by Dr. Meghan Fitzpatrick.

Welcome to this week’s CCLKOW discussion piece. Former Supreme Court judge Marie Deschamps recently released a report condemning the extent of sexual harassment within the Canadian Armed Forces. This has prompted calls for change and the formation of a fact-finding mission to examine how cases of harassment and assault are handled in other countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom. This week, we reflect on the nature and extent of the problem in these countries and what can be done moving forward. Read the piece and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

Late last month, a report regarding sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces (CF) was released. Authored by former Supreme Court judge Marie Deschamps, the report is a damning indictment of how the armed forces address harassment.[i] Deschamps’ recommendations include changes to policy that would allow ‘victims to be able to either formally report incidents of sexual misconduct, or simply request support services without having to trigger a formal complaint.’[ii] In addition, she has called for the creation of an independent agency to investigate cases.[iii] The release of the Deschamps report has sparked significant controversy and further allegations in connection to cadets at the Royal Military College in Kingston.[iv] Major General Christine Whitecross has been tasked with spearheading the military’s efforts to address the report’s recommendations. Over the following months, Whitecross will travel to countries such as the United States and United Kingdom in order to assess how Canada’s allies have tackled the same problem.[v]

Throughout the past decade, the United States has made a number of key advancements in confronting reports of sexual harassment and assault. In 2005, Congress created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office or SAPRO to, ‘provide oversight, guidance and accountability of sexual assaults within the Department of Defense.’[vi] Furthermore, US military units include sexual assault officers, ‘who are responsible for implementing policies as well as receiving complaints.’[vii] Finally, complaints can, ‘either be restricted, meaning they don’t trigger an investigation, or unrestricted.’[viii] Despite these developments, formidable obstacles to change remain. Former Marine Greg Jacob of the Service Women’s Action Network has pointed out that SAPRO primarily gathers data and does not have the power to change policy. Moreover, he has underlined that unit commanders remain responsible for deciding whether to proceed with the prosecution of cases. Jacob and others have argued that an external authority should deal with these complaints.[ix] The release of relevant statistical data has also made it clear that harassment and assault remain a major problem. A recent US Department of Defense study concluded that in 2014, ‘at least 18,900 service members — 10,400 men and 8,500 women — experienced unwanted sexual contact.’[x] However, only around 10% of reported cases led to courts martial.[xi] In addition, a RAND military workplace study indicated that around 55% of respondents experienced some form of bullying or retaliation after reporting an assault.[xii]

Across the Atlantic, the conviction of Sergeant Edwin Mee for, ’16 sex attacks on nine female recruits,’ has served to draw attention to this issue in the British armed forces.[xiii] The 2014 Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), noted that roughly 10% of personnel stated that, ‘they have been the subject of discrimination, harassment or bullying in a Service environment in the last 12 months.’[xiv] Figures secured by BBC reporter Sima Kotecha through a Freedom of Information request also revealed that, ’75 allegations of rape and 150 of sexual assault were made to military police between 2011 and 2013.’[xv] Although there have been calls for change in the media, a spokesperson for the MoD has argued that there is no evidence to suggest that these problems are any more prevalent in the military than in wider British society.[xvi]

Sexual harassment and assault are often presented as issues that only concern servicewomen. This is not the case. These problems can seriously impact the lives and career paths of both female and male soldiers. The vast majority of service personnel in Canada, the US and UK serve honourably and represent values of both integrity and respect. Consequently, it is vitally important that allegations of harassment, assault, bullying or violence of any kind be dealt with swiftly. However, these problems cannot be solved through policy change alone. Brigadier Nicky Moffat of the British Army has argued that some officers rely too heavily on, ‘equality and diversity statements,’ to address the matter and believe the ‘job done.’[xvii]Instead, Moffat suggests that, ‘every leader needs to make clear that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable. It’s about speaking out and making sure your voice is heard and understood.’[xviii] The authors of a Human Rights Watch publication on the subject have also identified strong leadership as a central driver of change. The military can begin to encourage this process by recognising both senior and junior leaders who respond effectively to abuse.[xix] This will create a safer environment for all soldiers, both present and future.

The question for this week is:

How can officers at all levels encourage lasting change?

[i] Paul Koring and Bill Curry, ‘Canadian Forces turn to US for advice on combating sexual harassment,’ Globe and Mail (1 May 2015),

[ii] Lee Berthiaume, ‘Canadian military looks to US counterpart on dealing with sexual misconduct,’ Ottawa Citizen (14 May 2015),

[iii] Bill Curry, ‘Canadian Forces to create independent agency to handle misconduct complaints,’ Globe and Mail (1 May 2015),

[iv] James Cudmore, ‘Royal Military College facing new cadet assault allegation,’ CBC News (27 May 2015),

[v] Koring and Curry, ‘Canadian Forces turn to US,’ (1 May 2015).

[vi] Greg Jacob and Estefania Ponti, ‘Learning from our Allies: Reforming the US Military to Stop Sexual Violence,’ Service Women’s Action Network,

[vii] Berthiaume, ‘Canadian military looks to US counterpart,’ (14 May 2015).

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] United States Department of Defense, Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military Fiscal Year 2014 (22 Apr 2015), RefID: D03CD9B6,

[xi] Koring and Curry, ‘Canadian Forces turn to US,’ (1 May 2015).

[xii] Andrew R Morral, Kristie L Gore, Terry L Schell, Barbara Bicksler, Coreen Farris, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Lisa H Jaycox, Dean Kilpatrick, Stephan Kistler, Amy Street, Terri Tanielian, and Kayla M Williams, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the US Military: Highlights from the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study,

[xiii] Sima Kotecha, ‘Army must “speak out” against harassment, says brigadier,’ BBC News (19 May 2015),; ‘Army sergeant Edwin Mee guilty of more sex attacks,’ BBC News (6 May 2015),

[xiv] Ministry of Defence, Statistical Series 6-Other Bulletin 6.03 — Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2014 (21 May 2014).

[xv] Kotecha, ‘Army must “speak out” against harassment,’ (19 May 2015).

[xvi] ‘Male rape prevalent in UK army, Ministry of Defence figures reveal,’ IBTimes (20 Dec 2014),

[xvii] Brigadier Nicky Moffat, as quoted in, Kotecha, ‘Army must “speak out” against harassment,’ (19 May 2015).

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