LONDON (AFP) – The head of the British Royal Navy has announced a probe after several whistle-blowers made allegations of widespread sexual harassment of female staff on submarines.
The Daily Mail yesterday published a story based on an interview with Sophie Brook, a former naval lieutenant, who described a “constant campaign of sexual bullying” including male crew members putting the names of female colleagues on a “rape list”.
The article also quoted two unnamed whistle-blowers who backed her account.
Professional Head of the navy First Sea Lord Ben Key said in a statement to the newspaper that he had called for an investigation to be carried out by his senior team and was “deeply disturbed” by the “abhorrent” allegations.
“Sexual assault and harassment has no place in the Royal Navy and will not be tolerated,” Key said, and anyone found culpable would “be held accountable” regardless of rank.
Brook, 30, had been tipped to become a submarine commander but became suicidal and self-harmed as a result of the culture on board and was ultimately dismissed by the navy.
The Royal Navy’s submarine service only began admitting women in 2011. Male superiors would routinely address her using obscenity, Brook said.
She learnt she was number six on a list of which female crew members would be assaulted first in the event of a catastrophe. She began self-harming at 21, two years after joining the navy.
After needing stitches for one injury, the doctor asked for her to be taken off duties, but she was put on watch immediately afterwards with “total responsibility” for the nuclear submarine, she said.
Director of the Centre for Military Justice Emma Norton, a charity that gives legal aid to victims of harassment, told Sky News that only around 10 per cent of women who experience serious bullying and harassment in the service make a formal complaint because “they have no faith that they’ll get any kind of justice or a fair hearing”. Norton said the Royal Navy had failed to act on repeated recommendations for greater independent oversight into such complaints.
Retired navy rear admiral Chris Parry told the BBC, “Some of the behaviour that we see in the normal working place is transferred to submarines, as you would expect”.