Culture of ‘don’t ruin his career’ and ‘men have needs’ plagues military as victims suffer in silence

A report has revealed that female employees in the department of defence who are victims of sexual misconduct often suffer in silence as their cases do not receive adequate attention. File photo.
A report has revealed that female employees in the department of defence who are victims of sexual misconduct often suffer in silence as their cases do not receive adequate attention. File photo.
Image: LOYISO MPALANTSHANE/THE HERALD

A recently released report on sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual offences within the department of defence has revealed the military is not the safest place to work, particularly for women.

The report released this week details the findings of the ministerial task team (MTT) that was mandated to investigate the reporting, management and finalisation of cases of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual offences within the department of defence.

The task team was appointed to review cases of sexual misconduct and assess victim support and relevant legislation and policies.

According to the report, many women in the department do not feel supported, and victims of sexual misconduct who had come forward complained about not receiving adequate support.

This, the team said, leads to victims being reluctant to report cases.

There is an assumption that those in command are complicit in the suppression of information and the protection of perpetrators.
ministerial task team report

“The members of the DOD [department of defence] therefore do not trust the leadership sufficiently to carry out appropriate responses to sexual misconduct. Instead, there is an assumption that those in command are complicit in the suppression of information and the protection of perpetrators,” the report reads.

The report noted that patriarchy remained embedded in the culture of the department, and impacted on the translation of gender representation into gender equality.

“There has been some level of acceptance by both men and women in the DOD of inappropriate sexual conduct, including sexual innuendos, sexually loaded comments, physical touch and harassment, and in some instances sexual violence,” says the report.

“Women who have reported inappropriate and sometimes criminal behaviour in the form of sexual assaults have at times been told ‘this is the way it is’, ‘just ignore it’, ‘we’ve all had to handle it’, ‘don’t ruin his career’ and ‘men have needs’.”

In some instances, the report revealed, women who had reported sexual misconduct, or indicated they might report a case, were approached by an intermediary and convinced to deal with the matters outside of the justice system, and to possibly accept compensation.

“Loose reference to ‘culture’ is often used to justify this mediation. Members within the DOD have remarked to the MTT that women come with a ‘culture of sleeping their way to the top’, feeding into a larger sexualised culture in the institution.”

There is no acknowledgment of and sensitivity to those who identify as members of the LGBTQI+ community, the report found.

“The non-punishment of sexual transgressions in the DOD contradicts the policies and statements about zero tolerance and perpetuates a sexualised culture.

When victims come forward, perpetrators rely on their fellow men and women in superior positions to either discourage the victim, mediate or attempt to possibly pay her off.
ministerial task team report

“Perpetrators rely on the fact that the command and control structure intimidates their victims and they will therefore be reluctant to come forward.

“When victims come forward, perpetrators rely on their fellow men and women in superior positions to either discourage the victim, mediate or attempt to possibly pay her off,” said the report.

The report noted that when cases eventually go to court, perpetrators receive light sentences. This, it said, leads to victims being marginalised for reporting such cases.

“The consequences for perpetrators appear minimal, if at all. The lack of victim support, the lack of consequences for perpetrators, and the protection of perpetrators of sexual misconduct leads to a lack of trust, fear, a lack of reporting and impunity, and ultimately undermines the stated values of both gender equality and professionalism within the DOD.”

Members of the task team who compiled the report said there was no information on how sexual misconduct cases were dealt with.

“A sexual harassment policy has been drafted and is yet to be signed off. There is very little knowledge of how sexual misconduct is dealt with within the DOD and no comprehensive approach across all services and divisions. Not all possible legislative provisions are used in the prosecution of cases of sexual misconduct, leading to lenient sentences.”

The report noted that the department of defence only relied on court processes to deal with alleged perpetrators, and there was no form of punishment meted out internally.

“This leads to a bizarre situation where an employer that has observed an assault in its work environment has to await the outcome of a criminal case in the civilian courts before the employee can be disciplined. Any disciplinary action is therefore based on proof required at a criminal trial.”

The task team recommended that the leadership of the defence force set ethical, moral and professional standards of behaviour.

“The leadership must indicate its regret that the DOD has become an unsafe space for victims to report sexual misconduct.”

The leadership of the defence force should also:

  • develop a strategy that institutes specific measures to eliminate gender discrimination, tacit acceptance of sexual misconduct and sexualised culture, as well as break the silence informed by fear and non-responsiveness;
  • set the tone and send a clear message that sexual misconduct is not tolerated;
  • formalise the multidisciplinary committee on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the office of the chief of staff of the military to deal with SEA issues comprehensively, including matters of paternity;
  • create, within a year, a civilian-led victim empowerment and support sexual misconduct centre; and
  • review and update all policies and strategies related to gender.

TimesLIVE


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