A scathing look at the sexual violence that plagues the Canadian military is the focus of an exclusive investigation by L’actualité, Maclean’s sister publication.
Every day, five individuals in the Canadian military community become victims of sexual assault, according to statistics obtained through Canada’s Access to Information Act.
The numbers show military police have received between 134 and 201 complaints of sexual assaults every year since 2000, which averages out to 178 per year.
Reporters Noemi Mercier and Alec Castonguay spoke with Alain Gauthier at the ombudsman’s office of the Canadian Forces.
“It’s a huge problem … there are lots of signs that things aren’t working,” Gauthier said.
He said the office is considering a system to fully investigate harassment and sexual violence within the armed forces.
The authors also found that statistics show it’s not just men as the aggressors and women as victims. There were also cases describing groups of men who commit assaults against other men.
The article claims the location of assaults span from during afternoon drills, a hotel room, on army ships and even while on deployment in Afghanistan.
Both Mercier and Castonguay say the military claims to protect its soldiers yet victims of sexual assault are being ignored and women who speak out against their rapists are being punished.
Mercier told 680News the investigation started after stories about sexual assault in the American military surfaced, and they found similar issues in the Canadian military.
She said the “most troubling” aspect in Canada is that “victims probably have more trouble within the military than outside of it getting help … because the system operates according to slightly [different] rules than the civilian justice system.
“The military machine, for all kinds of reasons, systemic [and] cultural… makes it harder for victims to obtain justice.”
Mercier also spoke about how U.S. President Barack Obama is fighting the problem. In a speech, Obama came out in strong support of survivors.
“For those who are in uniform who’ve experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander-in-chief that I’ve got their backs.” However, Canadian politicians have not come forward as strongly as Obama.
“To my knowledge, there is nothing comparable in Canada to what is going on in the U.S., in terms of elected officials taking a stand for victims and really coming forward and saying sexual assault in the military is a serious problem and we need to address it,” Mercier said.
She said she hasn’t heard anything either from the minister of defence, from the chief of the defence staff, from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or any other elected officials in Canada.
“The Pentagon is legally required to report about sexual assault in the military every year, and to report to Congress, and to explain every measure that they’re taking to address the problem.”
Mercier said there have been some improvements over the decades when the first assault started to become public.
“I think it has gotten better … there were several cover stories in Maclean’s magazine at the end of the 1990s, and when you go back and read these stories, it’s obvious that things have improved,” she said.
Women who spoke with reporters also said that once they reported the assault, they felt like they were betraying their colleagues and lived with the guilt of coming forward.
“It varies for every person, but the impact on their lives is profound. And there are research studies that show that being sexually assaulted within the military can have worse psychological consequences than being sexually assaulted in a civilian context,” Mercier said.
“These women felt profoundly betrayed by the institution that they were ready to give their life to.”
CityNews contacted the office of the Minister of National Defence on Wednesday night for a comment but have yet to get a response.
The article, titled Our Military’s Disgrace, appears in the May 5th edition of Maclean’s, which is available on Thursday on newsstands and via the magazine’s iPad edition. It is also available on Next Issue. The story will be published on Macleans.ca early next week.