Anti-bullying helpline bids to ‘stamp out’ harassment in armed forces

A helpline supporting service personnel has been set up to “stamp out” unacceptable behaviour in the armed forces, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced.

Service personnel who experience or witness bullying, harassment or discrimination will be able to contact the helpline, which will be staffed 24/7 by trained advisers and qualified counsellors.

It comes after Britain’s most senior military officer warned the armed forces must clamp down on the “laddish culture” responsible for driving out talented female and minority ethnic personnel.

Using the helpline – which will go live in September – individuals will be able to anonymously report incidents and seek help on how to take issues forward, according to the MoD.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter
Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

New “active bystander” training is also to be made available, encouraging individuals in all ranks who see unacceptable comments or actions to take a role in intervening, reporting or addressing it.

Meanwhile, updated guidance on sexual harassment will also be circulated around the forces to advise personnel on what they can do if they experience or witness it.

General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, said “thoroughly unacceptable behaviour” that “undoubtedly” pushes out female and ethnic minority personnel needed to be stamped out.

Giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee on Tuesday, he said it was “simply unacceptable” that they had so far failed to “move the dial” on the issue.

A review published last year concluded that the forces were led by a “pack of middle-aged white men” resulting in unacceptable levels of bullying, sexism and racist behaviour.

The report, by Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston, was commissioned after a 17-year-old female soldier was allegedly sexually assaulted by six male personnel.

Some 36 recommendations were made as part of the report, all of which have been accepted by the MoD.

The department said that to ensure progress continues to be made, an independent review is to be led by Danuta Gray, a non-executive board member and chair of the people committee.

The review will begin on July 15, to mark the first anniversary of the Wigston report, and is expected to run for approximately three months.

Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace said: “Our personnel selflessly serve our nation day in and day out, and they deserve to be treated equally, with dignity and respect, both on and off duty.

“There is simply no place for bullying or harassment in our armed forces and I’m determined to stamp this out.

“Our anti-bullying helpline is an important next step and I will continue to seek the change in behaviour we need to see across defence.”

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