Servicewomen’s Experiences of the Aftermath of Sexual Assault in the British Military: Blame, Shame and Betrayal.

26th Nov 2023

Foul name-calling, rape culture and sexual assault. The participants to a research study undertaken by the CMJ with Harriet Gray of York University and Dr Nicola Lester and which RUSI has published today, describe their experiences of reporting sexual assault in the military. The study reveals a system that is manifestly incapable of supporting women that have been through these experiences, compounds their trauma and makes their recovery much, much harder.

As the Ministry of Defence itself admits, ‘sexual harassment is part of the landscape for defence’. And as one of our participants put it, if you called it out every time it happened, ‘you’d be at it 24/7’. The participants to the study describe the sheer exhaustion of being a woman in the armed forces and how impossible it was to remain in service after their sexual assaults – not only because of the assault itself and the fact that none of them secured justice at court martial – but also because of the wider misogynistic culture which made it no longer tolerable for them to remain; and because of the harmful actions, inactions or statements by colleagues and the chain of command, that should have supported them – but did not.

In the article, which the Guardian has reported here, we present the first peer-reviewed, empirical academic study that explores servicewomen’s lived experiences of sexual assault, and its aftermath. The work is founded upon the experiences of several women assisted and represented by the CMJ in the very recent past. We argue that responses to sexual violence within the military space are often shaped by gendered military culture and by the prioritisation of institutional needs over individual wellbeing and that this is a form of institutional betrayal. In response to these findings, we call for a much broader reckoning with the British military’s problem with sexual violence, that goes far beyond present reforms to its criminal justice system.

Our research demonstrates what any woman who has been through this appalling experience knows all too well – after reporting rape, she faces humiliation, disbelief, blame, shame, and ostracisation. This harm is being caused by the very institution to which she had devoted her career and her life, an institution that too often appears more concerned with protecting its own reputation than in doing what is right. It is the most profound, life-changing form of institutional betrayal.


Emma Norton






How can you help?

The Centre for Military Justice is a small but growing charity and we rely on generous donations to carry out our vital work. We know that not everyone has the means to help us financially, but for those that do, we can say that every single penny counts.

You can also help us by joining our mailing list, so that we can keep you updated about our work and so that when we have specific asks, like sharing a social media post, we can get in touch.

Donate as much or as little as you can to help

Support Us

Join our mailing list

Join the mailing list