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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Defence Forces
Tánaiste says victims of sexual assault within the Defence Forces should contact the gardaí
Today’s report finds there is a higher risk of rape and sexual assault incidents occurring while members are on overseas duties.

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that any member of the Defence Forces that has been a victim of sexual assault should contact the gardaí. 

Speaking to reporters following the publication of a report into bullying and abuse in the Irish Defence Forces, Martin, who is also Minister of Defence said “we are encouraging people to go to the gardaí”. 

Martin said he has spoken to the An Garda Síochana management, adding that a special helpline is in place for those that need it. 

As well as setting up a statutory inquiry into how complaints have been handled within the Defence Forces, the Government plans to amend the Defence Act to ensure that all allegations of any type of sexual assault within the Defence Forces “in the State” are referred to the gardaí. 

However, he acknowledged today that where assaults take place on soldiers that are overseas, the military police is the body in charge in that incidence. 

Martin said there is no prohibition right now in a soldier going to the gardaí if the have been subject to an assault while serving abroad, however, as the incident took place in another country, there are difficulties over jurisdiction.  

“I can see the challenge there… that is not an easy one to overcome,” Martin said. 

The Independent Review Group report published today said that it is the belief of the females who participated in the report that most (if not all) women members have experienced some type of incident in the form of sexual harassment or sexual assault, “especially on overseas missions”. 

The report finds:

There is a higher risk of rape and sexual assault incidents occurring while members are on overseas duties.

“It must be taken into account that in many overseas environments bedrooms are side by side and that the cohort of female members is very small and isolated.”

“I think in terms of sexual assaults I’m very clear that has to go to the Garda,” said Martin. The new legislation will ensure there is an obligation that any sexual assault should be dealt with by the gardaí in the first instance, he said. 

Instruction to Chief of Staff

“We’ve already directed the Chief of Staff to do that, sexual assaults right now are to go to the gardaí,” he said. 

In the event that a complaint of a criminal nature is reported, the standard procedure is that the matter is investigated immediately by the military police.

The report finds that allegations of serious criminal incidents among serving members are brought to the attention of the military police are traditionally meant to be passed to An Garda Síochána for consideration and investigation.

“This is the current policy; however, it is not always observed in practice,” states the report. 

The report published today discusses the reporting arrangements between the military police and An Garda Síochána in respect of alleged serious crimes, such as rape and aggravated sexual assault.

A Defence Forces Victim Information Booklet launched in February 2022 outlines victims’ rights include their right to report the alleged crime to An Garda Síochána.

“On the other hand, there is no protocol for contacts between the Military Police and An Garda Síochána, and so there is a consequent informality about such communications, which does not engender confidence bury the complaint, or they were asked whether they seriously wanted to complain formally,” states the report.

‘Bungled investigations’

“Bungled investigations that last for years are the order of the day. The Defence Forces reported that no sexual harassment cases were officially recorded (closed or pending) through the formal complaints process over the period 2019–2021,” finds the review.

“This would appear to confirm the narrative that there is a lack of reporting of incidents rather than a lack of incidents,” states the report. 

It finds that these ‘zero incidence’ figures are not comparable with figures reported in other military organisations of similar size internationally, or in other organisations of similar size in Ireland.

It notes that complaints of this nature may bypass the formal procedures process and be reported directly to the Military Police such as in 2021 there were two complaints of sexual assault were made directly to the Military Police.

However, it notes the unsatisfactory response, stating that following a complaint, the victim often has to buy out their service. They also often subsequently learn that only a fine was imposed on the alleged perpetrator and that the alleged perpetrator was promoted.

“In contrast, the victim is left completely unsupported to suffer the abuse for life, with no proper closure,” the report states, stating that examples of serious sexual incidents where a complaint was made, and where the perpetrator was charged but was allowed to leave the Defence Forces, was made known to the reviewers.

“The perception of interviewees was that the Defence Forces is more concerned about what effect a sanction might have on the career of the alleged perpetrator, but that it has no concern about the effect on the alleged victim,” states the report. 

What the Tánaiste said he found “extremely worrying” is that having spoken to members only recently, he was informed that incidents are “still happening”. 

“That is not acceptable,” he said. 

“To be frank, notwithstanding the work of the very many good people who serve, this Report makes clear that the culture and work environment that exists within the Defence Forces in 2023, is simply and entirely unacceptable,” he said. 

“Bullying, misogynistic behaviour, and any form of sexual misconduct have no place in any workplace in this country.

“While this report addresses both men and women’s experience, the experience of many
women, in particular, within the Defence Forces has been appalling. Today I say, resistance to change is no longer an option, and will not be tolerated,” he said. 

Of the female respondents surveyed for the review, 88% reported experiencing one or more forms of sexual harassment.

Members of the Defence Forces reported being in dangerous situations after they were invited to take part in sexual activity by a person who was often of higher rank, and, in some cases, by a person or persons who were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

“Apart from the horrendous nature of the alleged rapes and sexual assaults suffered and described in great detail to the IRG, what happened afterwards is of equal concern,” the report said.

“Instead of delivering a proper, modern, streamlined and skilled response to the complainant, the individual was often told to bury the complaint, or they were asked whether they seriously wanted to complain formally,” it added.

The report is highly critical of the internal complaints system and also found that incidents of bullying, rape and other serious physical assaults are “covered up”.

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