Twenty-two of the 47 victims of abuse were attending AFC Harrogate, a hybrid boarding school and training centre for underage recruits, when the attacks took place. Of the 22 reports of assault at AFC Harrogate, three of those accused are staff at the facility, Docherty revealed. In a statement to VICE World News, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said they did not comment on individual cases: “The Armed Forces take any allegation of rape or sexual assault very seriously. Serving today is a very different experience to how it was 20 years ago, but we continue to make important changes to stamp out all unacceptable behaviours”.Assault is a “clear and present danger” for those who enlist, says Norton, but what happens next is often more traumatising. “The young women that contact us describe being demonised, ostracised and treated as if they are the problem,” she told VICE World News. Norton claims military police have proven themselves unfit to prosecute any kind of sexual assault crime, and should therefore have no place working with underage victims. “A lack of expertise in how to respond to allegations of sexual assaults at all causes very serious harm and more trauma,” she said. Perversely, teenage girls and young women are exactly the demographics the MoD are targeting for recruitment, after an alarming inquiry into women’s experience of military life last year.
“They said we were ‘Wracs’ - which stood for ‘weekly ration of army cunt’.”
In 2020, an independent judicial review led by Lord Justice Lyons described the rate of prosecutions of sexual assaults by military police as “astonishingly low”. Among the many shortcomings identified, he found the Royal Navy ships he inspected – an unknown number of which are currently mobilised in NATO exercises in response to the war in Ukraine – have no capacity to investigate reports of rape or sexual assault. He found no rape kits on board, and no one medically trained in how to take evidence in a manner that would meet prosecution standards of proof. Lyons also put on the public record that as of 2020, there were seven men on the UK sex offenders register who continue to serve across the RAF, Army and Navy. For safeguarding reasons, in the civilian world there are strict rules on how convicted sex offenders can interact with under 18s. In the Army, almost a quarter of recruits are of this age. But the bigger problem for victims, as well as anyone considering joining, is the unknown number of unregistered sex offenders currently operating within the ranks and the military culture that allows them to thrive. Jean Macdonald enlisted in 1977 and was part one of the first battalion of female Army fitness instructors permitted to train with the men, a proud member of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. It’s taken her 40 years to begin to talk openly about what happened to her. “They said we were ‘Wracs’ - which stood for ‘weekly ration of army cunt’.”
“I was once locked up in a wagon, tie-wrapped to a metal pallet and ended up at another military base in Yorkshire in the back of a curtain-sided lorry.”
The MoD claimed the reason it doesn't use the term is that it can find no evidence of its use by defence, the medical profession or the UK government more broadly. However, there is research into MST funded by other government departments as well as the National Health Service. They did not answer questions about compensation, nor did they say whether an estimate of the potential costs had been made. Royal Navy Lt. J, 29, who goes by her first initial, also suffered military sexual trauma while serving. But instead of being compensated, she was fined more than £1,000 for breaching the Code of Social Conduct for being drunk the night she was raped and sexually assaulted by two junior colleagues. The men were not arrested despite there being several witnesses to the attack and severe bruising consistent with assault. Harassment and assault, she says, are the endpoint of a culture imbued from training. “It starts with misogyny and banter, it develops into discrimination, microaggressions and bullying, then the harassment and assault,” J says. “The MoD’s continual dismissal of MST is proof that they continue to bury their heads in the sand.”
“This sergeant comes up to me. He says, ‘I want you to imagine that your girlfriend is over there. She is being sexually assaulted, she is being raped.’”
Child Rights International Network (CRIN) is calling for AFC Harrogate to be shut down. "The Army Foundation College's record of abuse and general disregard for the welfare of the young recruits in its care is appalling. The institution must be closed down, as any civilian college with this record surely would be”, Charlotte Cooper, Campaigns Co-ordinator at CRIN, told VICE World News. Senior Airman J, now 41, left the RAF after refusing to conform to this “grey man” figure his superiors demanded. He was told that someone in his group was communicating with multiple young girls online, but he told VWN he hesitated to report it, as he had already unsuccessfully complained about witnessing sexual abuse. “[He was talking to them] on his computer. It was really distressing. He wasn’t just going after anyone; it was a targeted thing. Like, the girls were very, very young, or they looked it anyway, almost pre-pubescent.” He claims military police reviewed the “deeply traumatic” explicit pictures, then said they didn’t have enough information about the girls to investigate further.Fear of repercussions and the negative impact it could have on their careers were among the main reasons servicewomen told the Atherton Inquiry that they did not report assaults. “When things go wrong for servicewomen, they go dramatically wrong,” the report said. Corporal R, who was sexually harassed by her senior commanding officer, has been left disillusioned and distressed by how her abuser was treated by the Army. After the commander was allowed to leave the Army on his full pension, Corporal R says, she was told that he had been moved home to England from his posting overseas due to similar complaints of sexual harassment. Had there been proper processes in place, or more importantly, a culture where procedures were actually followed, he would never have been her commander and her life would be very different right now. This man is now in his 50s and still boasts about his military career on social media. To their mutual acquaintances on Facebook he refers to Corporal R, the woman he sexually abused without consequence for two years, as “that ugly bitch who got me sent down.” Court-martialled only for harassment, he appears remorseless, but at least there are no longer any women serving under his command. “It remains an unsafe place for women to work, if you are unlucky enough to come across one of these toxic predators in uniform,” Lt. Col. Allen said. But it’s the operating environment that remains the biggest challenge; the culture of the “grey man” that allows sexual violence to run wild. A culture the military leadership and the MoD appear unable, or as veterans insist, unwilling to address. “The wider problem is the large group who turn their heads away when things go wrong, who turn a blind eye to wrongdoing in uniform,” says Allen “This larger group is allowing the predators to thrive.”Some details have been changed to protect victims’ anonymity rights Correction 21/07/2022: AFC Harrogate was mistakenly called ‘ATC Harrogate’. This has been amended and updated.@LaraWhyte
“It remains an unsafe place for women to work, if you are unlucky enough to come across one of these toxic predators in uniform.”