In June 2005 the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) suspended the launch of a formal investigation into sexual harassment in the armed forces when the Ministry of Defence agreed to deliver a three-year action plan to change the culture.

Jenny Watson, acting chair of the EOC was reported as saying:


‘On the basis of complaints received by the EOC, information supplied by the Ministry of 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.’ (The Times, 24 June 2005, p22)



The figures at the time suggested that one in five women in the Royal Navy had been subjected to sexual harassment over the previous 12 months, one in eight in the Army, and one in ten in the RAF. Yet very few women complained formally – and the difference in scale had prompted EOC intervention.

The action plan, launched at a joint press conference included publicising research into the extent of sexual harassment in the armed services; carrying out a review of all complaints (formal and informal); and ‘giving direction on standards of behaviour that will help create an environment in the armed services that is free from harassment’ (EOC, Annual Report, 2007, p28).

The 2005 agreement was an important moment, as sexual harassment was acknowledged as a very serious issue across media outlets.

Yet, reports since have continued to highlight the difficulties that women, LGBTQ+ people and those who are Black or minority ethnic face within traditionally white and male-dominated occupations including policing and the armed services.  The 2019 Wigston Review into Inappropriate Behaviour, commissioned by the MoD, reported increased levels of harassment (according to a recent staff survey) but continued reluctance to make a formal report, with 70 per cent of those who did so dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation. It proposed a wide-ranging set of 36 recommendation to prevent inappropriate behaviour and transform the culture.