Women

'Shocking' rise in rape and sexual assault claims made by girls under 18 in military

Since 2015, 41 complaints have been made by girls aged 16 and 17 serving in the Armed Forces.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has released figures which reveal complaints of rape and sexual assault made by girls under 18 in the Armed Forces have risen tenfold since 2015.

Freedom of information (FOI) requests show that since 2015 girls aged 16 and 17 in the Armed Forces have made 41 complaints of rape and sexual assault to the military police.

The figures were described as 'shocking' by the Child Rights International Network (CRIN), which made the FOI request.

With an average of 215 young women under 18 serving in the Armed Forces between 2015 and 2020, this would suggest that it is the equivalent to one report of rape or sexual assault for every 40 young women in this age group in the military.

It is a rate CRIN says is more than twice as high for 16 and 17-year-old girls in the Armed Forces compared to those of the same age in civilian life. 

CRIN's Campaigns Co-ordinator Charlotte Cooper said they are seeing a "rising problem".

"There was one report for every 40 girls in forces, which I think you'll agree is a shockingly high number and one we wouldn't expect to see in any other context for children, like a school or a civilian workplace".

She added: "We can't tell whether it is about increased reporting or increased numbers.

"But either we've got a situation where the problem's increased sharply in the last few years or we've got a situation where it has existed at this level for several years and the MOD and the Armed Forces have allowed it to go unchecked.

"I don't think either of those are a good outcome for 16 and 17-year-old girls."

In response to these figures, an MOD spokesperson said: "All sexual offences are unacceptable and not tolerated in the Armed Forces. 

"We have robust, effective and independently verified safeguards in place to ensure that under-18s are cared for properly."

Trauma mental health therapist Paula Edwards works for charity Salute Her, which was set up to support serving women and female veterans.

She said that she has "not witnessed" the same safeguarding practices followed by civilian workplaces within the Armed Forces.

"In the civilian world, I would be care co-ordinating, I would have assessed that woman and created a care package around her that kept her safe, that stabilised her, that reduced risk," she said.

"I think the risk is for anyone under the age of 25, any woman who is under the age of 25, because that's when most of the sexual assaults seem to occur."

CRIN has a wider campaign seeking to ban all under-18s from enlisting in the UK's Armed Forces.

And it's a change they would like to see reflected in the Armed Forces Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, you can find more information about available support services on our website.