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14 March 2024 | Comment | Article by Danielle Vincent

Unveiling Military Sexual Trauma: Insights from the Female Veteran Alliance Report

Female Veterans Alliance

Our military partner, Female Veterans Alliance, has released a report, Female Veterans: The forgotten and invisible servicewomen of our Armed Forces, containing commentary and recommendations from a female veteran’s workshop held last year.

The report offers valuable insight into the multifaceted challenges faced by female veterans.

We’ve identified key concerns voiced by the female veteran community and are publishing a series of blogs to provide advice and guidance.

The workshop was sponsored by Hugh James, as is the report.


From the findings of the Female Veteran Alliance workshop report 2023, it’s evident that the mental toll of past experiences among military servicewomen, particularly instances of military sexual trauma (MST), remains distressingly prevalent. Experiences shared during the workshop highlight a pervasive culture of dismissal and discouragement surrounding reports of harassment and abuse, both during and after military service.

Female veterans face significant barriers to seeking support, often feeling marginalised by veteran support services perceived as tailored primarily for their male counterparts. This cycle of normalisation and neglect perpetuates a reluctance to seek help, exacerbating the profound impact of MST on the well-being of servicewomen.

Disturbing statistics

The 2021 Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey reported that 11% of female personnel (and less than 1% of male personnel) had experienced sexual harassment in the Service environment in the previous 12 months.

The Army’s 2021 Sexual Harassment Survey revealed that 19% had experienced unwanted attempts to establish a sexual relationship, 7% had been treated badly for refusing to have sex with someone, 4% had been subjected to a sexual activity to which they were unable to consent, 2.6% had been seriously sexually assaulted, and 1.8% had been raped.

As sexual abuse is often unreported, no doubt the actual figures would be much higher than the above.


There is often significant pressure not to report, that doing so may impact career progression or the dynamic within the team when often unacceptable sexual behaviour is deemed as “banter”. Further reluctance can be due to the belief an individual will not be believed especially if the perpetrator is in a position of trust and has a long service history. Lastly, there is wrongly often a stigma that in some way the individual is to blame.

Research has found that those who did disclose, felt they weren’t taken seriously, dismissed or discouraged to proceed with their complaint, effectively that their report was “swept under the carpet”.

In the media over the last year there have been multiple reports of senior officers groping female juniors on days out, at the Christmas party and sadly the report of a young soldier who was harassed so much by her senior, that at her inquest it was found the harassment was a heavy factor in her suicide .

It is important to mention that sexual trauma impacts all levels of the military not just junior positions.

More training, awareness and safeguarding needs to be implemented within the military on acceptable behaviour and communication from as early as enrolment.  It should be made clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated and could lead to discharge or court martial action.

If you have been affected by MST, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Abuse Team for a free initial consultation.

Ways of reporting inappropriate behaviour including whistle blowing should be clearly outlined, and when received, taken seriously to prevent serial offenders continuing in their roles and a culture of unacceptable behaviour continuing.

Reports should be able to be made anonymously, or through independent routes with clear channels of how a report can be made, the investigation process, and where possible, ensuring the person making the complaint is informed of the outcome of any investigation. If the abuser is in a position of power above the individual, they should be moved or limited in interaction with the complainant.

Without unrestricted reporting and investigation channels implemented, nothing will change. It is therefore imperative that the military provide procedures and a voice to those who have suffered abuse to make much needed change.

Often in order to escape sexual trauma an individual may terminate their career, which they have spent years, if not decades working towards with a reluctance to disclose the reason for leaving. Many continue to suffer in silence after leaving.

Despite awareness being raised over the last few years, the boys club mentality remains strong. However, with much more focus on #metoo and public movements to stamp out such behaviour a light is being shone on unacceptable behaviour and cultures especially in male dominant areas such as the military.  It is however clear, there is a long way to go.


MST has a major impact on not only mental health but physical health also.

There are strong links between suffering military sexual trauma and developing PTSD.

Many individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to supress memories. Individuals can also suffer long term impact on relationships, future employment, socialising, and financial hardship, to name just a few.

Often as set out above, individuals suffer in silence for many years and don’t therefore seek the therapy that could be beneficial.

Ways of seeking support

Free therapy should be provided by the military rather than to the financial detriment of the individual who has suffered abuse.  In an ideal world, the military should provide such support with no cap on time frame or number of sessions.

Sexual Abuse Centres are available to provide therapy and support. Your local centre can be found on the Rape Crisis England and Wales website.

In addition, GPs will be able to signpost specialist counselling for sexual abuse in your local area. Often there are also online support groups and local group support for sexual abuse survivors.

In the UK there does not seem to be a specific group for MST like there is in the United States. It would be of much benefit if the military invested in such a group.

A civil claim for compensation can be brought against the MOD for MST. This is different to a court martial hearing where the individual would be punished by a custodial sentence. A court martial hearing is not a prerequisite to proceed with a civil claim against the military.

A civil claim can include compensation for personal injury (physical and psychological damage), but also other losses such as impact to career progression, loss of promotion, pension or other monetary sums. Further compensation damages can include associated costs such as private therapy.

Such claims are funded by way of a conditional fee agreement (no win no fee) which provides an individual with access to a solicitor to proceed with a civil claim without the need to finance it from their own savings.

In closing, the prevalence of MST among servicewomen underscores a systemic failure that cannot be ignored. It’s imperative that we not only acknowledge these distressing realities but also take concrete steps to address them. By prioritising comprehensive support mechanisms and challenging prevailing attitudes, we can empower every woman in the military to seek the assistance they deserve.

If you have been affected by MST, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Abuse Team for a free initial consultation.

Author bio

Danielle Vincent

Senior Associate

Danielle is a Senior Associate in the Abuse Specialist Personal Injury Department. She specialises in representing survivors of abuse and has experience in bringing claims against a number of institutions as well as individual abusers.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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