Friday, 21 March 2014

Is there a whole new breed of abuse hidden in the army just waiting to be discovered?

Anne Marie Ellement
The recent story about the suicide of Anne Louise Ellement, and her inquest, demanded and orchestrated by her family and campaigning lawyer, made me realise that there is a huge undiscovered area of abuse in the military, it seems, at the moment, more against women than men. It would not surprise me in the least if, in a very male and power dominated environment, that male on male abuse is not also commonplace.

The inquest revealed that a female soldier, albeit with a fragile mental health background, was bullied ruthlessly for reporting two soldiers for raping her at barracks in Germany. Because the military do not have to hand over allegations of a sexual nature to the civilian police, it was decided to take no further action. This then prompted the accused's soldier's girlfriend to bully her cruelly for being a "slag" etc. The upshot, eventually after this had gone on for more than a year also by others was the successful suicide of the soldier. Because this soldier was disliked, presumably in view of her accusations, she had been overworked, and given unreasonable amounts of work which she was unable to complete, hence allegations of work related stress.

An interesting article of quite outspoken comment appeared in the Guardian Society Pages, written by a former soldier, Joe Glenton, which in summary alleged that there is institutional sexism in the army - to quote

"Let us dispense with the idea that the British military is in a meaningful sense a slightly quaint but essentially harmonious family. Healthy families do not regularly inflict acts of sexual violence upon each other, and in the British forces rapes and sexual assaults seem to have become something of a banality. No comparable professional group in the UK appears to rival the military for rates of colleague-on-colleague sexual violence. I would argue this stems from a poisonous mix of unchallenged sexism, unaccountable power and an archaic military justice system."

I then started to compare the way it is in the army with abuse in the civilian world and came up with some startling conclusions:-

1. To exist, abuse requires a cloistered environment where an abuser can be alone away from the prying eyes of those who might judge, prevent, and prosecute - the army is its own world with its own police force and internal rules. To justify this existence it needs to produce a fighting force which can protect our nation. This justifies making individuals who will not think twice before killing another man in cold blood. But how does this fit in with a morally sensitive environment and a caring attitude to allegations of rape?

2. The way in which abusers manage to operate in secret for many years is by abuse of power, which is indeed what abuse is. Whilst sexual assault is usually the outcome, the driving force and perversion is always abuse of power which makes all abusers manipulative and coercive of their victims and any authority which attempts to investigate and punish them. The army lives on power and command. It is insular, and male dominated. It has to be powerful to survive and win wars.

3. The way in which one can route out abuse is by creating an open and protected system of reporting. Mandatory reporting exists in most countries which use civilised systems of law - apart from England of course - which makes the failure to report abuse witnessed a crime. What better environment exists to suppress the reporting of abuse a crime than the army . They use their own military police to investigate most crimes. To make a report, one presumably has to go through the echelons of power rather than being able to report outside of the army to the police. It is thus easy to contain any corruption internally and at source. Indeed it was not until 1999 that it became possible legally to bring any civil proceedings against the Crown. Prior thereto it was the law that the Crown was immune from any sort of civil suit.

4. The more traditional and inward looking an organisation (the Catholic Church for instance), the less likelihood there is of any abuse being investigated and changes made to prevent it happening in the future. One definitely gets the impression that the Army has all the hallmarks of making the process of investigation and change extremely difficult.

Having done my analysis I feel quite pessimistic that the abuse which exists in the army will be routed out and its culture changed. I fear we have a long hard path to tread, and a long way to go.....