While writing blogs on different aspects of national defence, I usually start with statistics to provide context about each topic. However, statistics cannot even begin to describe the horror of the sexual violence that plagues our military.

Instead, I will quote Lise Gauthier, a woman who frequently dealt with sexual misconduct during her 25 year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force. This is what she said when describing her trauma:

I think about the attacks all the time, 24 hours a day. There’s no escape. I wish no one had to go through what I did. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. You stop living. You’re in survival mode. The best you can do is breathe,

 

Many women in the Canadian Armed Forces have suffered from sexual assault, just like Gauthier. According to Statistics Canada, 2% of all female CAF members reported being sexually assaulted over the past year. Further, 27.3% of all female members reported being victims of sexual assault at least once during their career.

In other words, women are twice as likely to become victims of sexual misconduct in the CAF compared to any other job! This is unacceptable.

These assaults must be stopped. Rampant sexual misconduct makes our Canadian military an unsafe workplace, and it is not surprising that women are not enlisting when they have to fear this treatment from their peers! Everyone wants a safe workplace.

 

The CAF has recognized these assaults and has put its plan to address it into motion. In August 2015, General Jonathan Vance launched Op HONOUR, a program designed to end harmful sexual behavior in the CAF. After only two years, the CAF is already starting to see some significant changes!

 

Most notably, the CAF has taken the job of reviewing sexual misconduct cases out of the hands of superior officers, who have historically turned a blind eye to this misconduct. Instead, the Department of Defence has created its own specialized bureau to ensure that trained professionals are managing every case!

Further, through Op HONOUR, the CAF has developed a “bystander training program” which educates members in all ranks and positions about what they have to do if they are aware of sexual misconduct. Thanks to this program, the CAF is already starting to see far more reported cases of sexual misconduct!

 

This is only the start. Because of Op HONOUR, the CAF is developing more tools that will be rolled out in the future. Initiatives like victim support structures, enhanced investigative practices, studies and surveys on the issue, and additional training programs are all currently being developed or implemented across the CAF!

 

Unfortunately, the pace of Op HONOUR’s implementation is disconcerting. In Op HONOUR’s spring and fall 2016 reports, it was found that many programs were stuck in their initial stages, and that wider implementation was slow. Why?

While the CAF has recently had more success in reaching its targets, this cannot happen fast enough. Delaying Op HONOUR’s implementation means allowing sexual misconduct to continue and allowing for more tragic stories like that of Lise Gauthier to happen.

Given how important this issue is, I intend to follow up on it in future blogs. Change needs to come to the CAF, and I believe that Op HONOUR is only the beginning. We all will have to make sure the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff will continue to work to keep the CAF as a safe environment for all.

 

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