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A report on “Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment” released Thursday acknowledges problems at Canada’s military colleges such as the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston.Lars Hagberg/The Globe and Mail

The independent review into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces found that soldiers rarely reported incidents, which created a misleading portrait of the extent of the problem. Investigators cited three main reasons most incidents of sexual harassment or assault in the military are never reported.

Impact on career

Members of the Forces said they were afraid of being removed from their units, missing training or being passed over for promotions if they filed complaints about sexual harassment or assault. One member said "the consequences of reporting are frightening," and another said it was "the kiss of death to your career." Investigators said they heard many examples of complainants who suffered retaliation for reporting – and some who were muzzled while trying to do so.

Privacy

Soldiers said they did not think that if they reported a problem it would remain confidential. Members said they were worried about being stigmatized within the tight military communities if they were identified as victims of rape or other sexual assault. Junior officers suggested to investigators that such complaints could tarnish the reputation of a unit.

The lack of confidentiality is compounded by a policy that requires complainants to first report to the next person up the chain of command, who might not be equipped to handle the issue or have sensitivity to it. Investigators also said that officer might have more incentive to make a problem go away rather than resolve it.

Lack of trust

At the heart of the problem is that, investigators say, most Forces members do not believe their complaints would be dealt with seriously. "Underlying all of these reasons is a clear lack of trust in the chain of command, deep skepticism that the system will be responsive to complaints of sexual harassment, and a lack of confidence that leaders will do anything to prevent the negative impact of harassment on members," the report says.

Male victims of sexual assault suffer further stigmatization if they report, even though investigators were told of incidents of violent sexual attacks by men against other men, including gang rape. The review said many of these incidents were fuelled by a desire to show dominance – not necessarily sexual attraction – and that the military culture still suffers from strains of homophobia.