Survey finds minimal progress in military’s fight against sexual misconduct

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada has offered a sobering assessment of the Canadian Forces’ four-year war on sexual misconduct, suggesting in a new report Wednesday that the military has made only minimal progress on several fronts.

The report was the result of a survey of about 36,000 service members conducted by Statistics Canada for the military last fall, the second such survey after an inaugural run in 2016.

On the surface, the survey yielded several reasons for optimism: fewer military members reported having witnessed or experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviour over the previous 12 months than in the first survey.

Yet military commanders were tempering any congratulatory messages given that the number who reported seeing or being targeted by such behaviour was still high: around 70 per cent in 2018 compared to 80 per cent in 2016.

“Experiencing repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations and offering workplace benefits for sexual activity did not decrease in either the regular force or the primary reserve,” the report reads.

Even more worrying, the survey found that there had been only a negligible decline in the percentage of military personnel who reported having been the victims of sexual assaults over the previous 12 months.

According to the results, 1.6 per cent of regular-force members — about 900 full-time military personnel — reported having been the victims of sexual assaults over the previous 12 months. That compared to 1.7 per cent in 2016.

The rate among reservists was even higher, with 2.2 per cent — about 600 part-time military personnel — reporting they had been the victims of sexual assaults in the previous year, compared to 2.6 per cent in 2016.

Sexual assault includes a sexual attack, unwanted sexual touching or sexual activity without consent.

During a news conference announcing the results, the military’s second-in-command described the number of Forces members who continue to be affected by sexual misconduct as “completely unacceptable.”

“We’ve always known that this would be a long and bumpy road, and the survey results released today confirm this,” vice-chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk said.

“Sexual misconduct continues to be a destructive problem within the Canadian Armed Forces, and we have made rather limited progress in eliminating it over the past two-and-a-half years.”

The Statistics Canada report is the only latest to suggest the military’s efforts to eliminate sexual misconduct have fallen short, after similar findings by the federal auditor general and the Forces’ own investigations.

 

File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance. A survey of about 36,000 service members conducted by Statistics Canada last fall suggests the military has made only minimal progress against sexual misconduct.

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