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Armed Forces sexual harassment
to be addressed

June 23 2005 - Secretary of State for Defence John Reid has signed an agreement with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to address sexual harassment in Britain's Armed Forces.

The agreement based on a wide-ranging action plan outlining the MOD's commitment to tackle sexual harassment, including:

  • Fresh surveys and discussion groups with men and women in the Services to understand fully the instances of sexual harassment and identify the most effective measures to prevent it;
  • Ensuring that the Armed Forces' complaints procedure is fair, objective and confidential, and seen to be so;
  • Increasing awareness of sexual harassment and how it can damage operational effectiveness

John Reid said:

"In the Armed Forces we strive to create an environment in which every individual can realise their potential. This means treating all our personnel with respect and valuing the distinct contribution of every man and woman.

"That is why I am delighted to be signing this Agreement today and am determined to achieve the outcomes and measures within it. Bullying and harassment cannot be tolerated and have no place in the Armed Forces.

"We take our responsibility to prevent and deal effectively with sexual harassment extremely seriously and this Agreement demonstrates our commitment.

"A great deal of work has been done to get our diversity and equality policies right, but we recognise that sexual harassment stills exists in the Armed Forces and more needs to be done to embed our policies into Service culture at every level."

EOC Acting Chair Jenny Watson today welcomed the commitment of the MOD:

"By signing this Agreement, the MOD has recognised the need to urgently and systematically tackle sexual harassment in the Armed Forces. We share a common view that nobody should have to suffer harassment - and if they do, they should have the confidence that their complaints will be dealt with efficiently.

"On the basis of complaints received by the EOC, information supplied by the MOD, and the findings of the Armed Forces' own surveys, there is clear evidence that, despite the efforts that have been made, significant sexual harassment still exists across the Armed Forces. This would justify a Formal Investigation using our legal powers, however, we have chosen to suspend the Investigation as the MOD has convinced us that they are going to take decisive and immediate action to tackle the problem.

"Creating a culture where everybody is treated fairly and decently, and dealing with complaints properly if they arise, is an essential part of building any successful modern organisation. The MOD is no exception. It needs to build a strong and highly-motivated team if it is to fulfil the commitments we ask of it.

"We are confident that their work over the next three years will improve working conditions for thousands of service women. We look forward to working with the MOD to help them bring about real and long-lasting organisational change."

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Michael Walker said:

"Service in the Armed Forces is unique because lives may depend on people working well together. We have no greater asset than the skill and courage of our people, so the care of our men and women is central to our ethos.

"We will continue to reinforce equality and diversity as central tenets of leadership in the Armed Forces.

"The Action Plan we have drawn up with the EOC aims to create a working environment in which sexual harassment is unacceptable, and in which Service personnel who suffer it feel able to complain and have confidence in the complaints process.

"We look forward to working with the EOC, and with their help we are confident that we can bring about lasting change."

The full Agreement and Action Plan can be found at http://www.mod.uk.

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