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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sixty women complain of 'hostile' and 'toxic' culture at Ministry of Defence in letter alleging sexual assault, abuse and harassment by male colleagues in London and overseas

  • 60 women have written to the MoD describing a ‘hostile’ and ‘toxic’ work culture 

Sixty women at the Ministry of Defence have written a letter describing a ‘toxic’ and hostile working environment – with claims of sexual assault and harassment from male co-workers.

The letter, marked ‘official-sensitive’, was submitted to the MoD’s permanent secretary David Williams last month by a group of top female civil servants and included anonymised accounts of abuse.

The group of ‘senior civilian women’ describe the workplace culture at the MoD as ‘hostile to women as equal and respected partners’.

Many of them recalled incidents whether they were ‘propositioned’, ‘groped’ and ‘touched repeatedly’ by male colleagues, The Guardian reports.

The letter stated: ‘[Our] day-to-day professional lives are made difficult thanks to behaviours that would be considered toxic and inappropriate in public life, but that are tolerated at the MoD.

Sixty women at the Ministry of Defence have written a letter describing a ‘toxic’ and hostile working environment – with claims of sexual assault and harassment from male co-workers

‘We are spoken over during meetings, we are subject to pejorative language, we receive unwanted attention and face sexual harassment, including intrusive staring, sexualised comments, running commentary about what we wear, how we look, and how we smell.’

The letter includes ‘very recent’ alleged incidents at the department’s London base as well as overseas trips. 

The allegations, said to come from ‘senior civilian women in operational and security roles’, include:

– One woman who claimed she was groped at a social event but was discouraged from making a complaint.

– A woman working overseas who alleged a senior military officers repeatedly touched her on her lower back and legs, adding that he went ‘unpunished’.

–  A claim that a group of officers ran an Excel spreadsheet that rated women ‘on their looks’ and ‘what they thought they’d be like in bed’.

– Another woman who claimed a senior defence official asked ‘whether anal sex’ was an appropriate topic for his speech.

– A female employee described being propositioned in a corridor by military officer at an overseas base.

 According to the letters’ authors, the claims are the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and detail ‘a current problem, not a historical one’.

Several of those who gave testimonies recall being ‘sick with fear’ and ‘sobbing in the bathroom’.

The letter states that women who attempt to speak up are ‘generally minimised rather than listened to’ and that ‘[the MoD’s] complaints system is not fit for purpose’.

In a statement, the MoD said: ‘We are taking action to tackle the deeply concerning issues raised. No woman should be made to feel unsafe in Defence and this behaviour will not be tolerated. 

‘We also continue to encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed this kind of inexcusable behaviour, to report it immediately.’

The Guardian had sight of a letter of response from Mr Williams dated October 5, in which he states he is ‘disappointed and appalled’ by the allegations. 

Mr Williams attempts to assure the women their concerns are ‘being taken seriously and will be acted on’. He added that the chief of the defence staff, Adm Sir Tony Radakin, had been informed of their claims.

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