Sex-misconduct survey excludes vulnerable military members: Survivors' group
The Canadian military is looking to provide case workers to victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour to ensure they have adequate support starting from the moment they report an incident through to the end of their case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, November 14, 2018 2:52PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 14, 2018 4:50PM EST
OTTAWA -- A survivors' group for those affected by sexual misconduct in the military says the voices of particularly vulnerable service members are being left out of a survey meant to see how prevalent inappropriate behaviour is in the ranks.
The survey is being conducted by Statistics Canada for the Canadian Forces and is the military's most recent attempt to get a handle on how many service members have experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct over the previous 12 months.
Statistics Canada conducted a similar survey involving 43,000 Forces members in 2016 to set a baseline so senior commanders can see whether progress has been made in the fight against sexual misconduct.
But It's Just 700, which represents former service members who experienced sexual trauma in uniform, is questioning the decision to omit certain military personnel, particularly those who are in training, at university, or on medical leave.
Such service members were not included in large part because they were not likely to have been in active service in the Forces for the 12 full months the survey is meant to cover, said a spokeswoman for the military's sexual misconduct response team.
"We are confident that the survey, as designed, will meet the overall objective of gathering data on the prevalence and nature of self-reported sexual misconduct within the military workplace," Cecily Wallace wrote in an email.
"While certain groups not involved in active service during the requisite period are not included from this survey, the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) has a number of other mechanisms in place to solicit information."
Statistics Canada has extensive experience in conducting large surveys, Wallace added, including those on sensitive topics such as inappropriate sexual behaviour in the general population.
But recent research and reporting suggests young service members and those in training -- two groups that are often one and the same -- are at higher risk of sexual violence, said It's Just 700 founder Marie-Claude Gagnon.
"The most at-risk population for sexual violence in the Canadian military are young CAF members," Gagnon wrote in an email, adding that "the most dangerous times and locations are while on course and training and deployments."
The 2016 survey found that about 1.7 per cent of the roughly 90,000 people in uniform -- about 960 cases -- were sexually assaulted in the previous year, a rate higher than the 0.9 per cent reported in the general population. Most of the complaints related to unwanted sexual touching.
But Gagnon noted that service members under the age of 30 were three times more likely to report being sexually assaulted or otherwise targeted by inappropriate behaviour than those aged 40 or older, according to the survey report.
And among military personnel under the age of 25, the proportion of those who reported being victims of sexual assault was about five times higher among women when compared to men.
She also cited the initial Maclean's magazine investigation in 2014 that sparked the military's current crackdown on sexual misconduct in the ranks. It found many reported sexual assaults came from areas with a high degree of training schools.
They included Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario, home to the military's largest training base and the highest number of sexual assaults reports over the previous decade, as well as Kingston, Ont., where the Royal Military College of Canada is located.
A Defence Department-commissioned study last year, meanwhile, found that sexual assault "contributes substantially" to mental disorders, which Gagnon said raised concerns about the decision not to include members on medical leave.
"This means people on medical leave recently injured by sexual violence might not be included in the survey," she said.
"I am not sure why it was decided to exclude CAF members that were considered, according to recent Canadian research, the most likely to report an encounter of sexual violence. I find it worrisome. If these groups were included, the result would be quite different."