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Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, 2018

Released: 2019-05-22

In 2018, 1.6% of Regular Force members—approximately 900 individuals—reported that they were victims of sexual assault in the military workplace or outside the workplace involving military members in the 12 months prior to the survey. The prevalence of sexual assault was slightly higher among the Primary Reserve at 2.2% of the population, or about 600 individuals.

The prevalence of sexual assault in 2018 for both the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve was similar to what was observed in 2016, when 1.7% of Regular Force members and 2.6% of Primary Reservists reported being victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault includes sexual attacks, unwanted sexual touching, or sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent.

Results from the 2018 Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces are available today, in two separate reports (Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force, 2018 and Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve, 2018). The Canadian Armed Forces comprise the Regular Force, which includes mostly full-time members, and the Primary Reserve, whose membership is largely part-time.

Sexual assault most prevalent among women in the Primary Reserve

In 2018, the proportion of women in the Regular Force who were sexually assaulted (4.3% of the population) was about four times higher than that of men (1.1%). Similar results were found in 2016.

The prevalence of sexual assault was almost six times higher for women in the Primary Reserve in 2018 (7.0%) than for men in the Reserves (1.2%).

As in 2016, unwanted sexual touching was the most common form of sexual assault experienced by Regular Force members and by Primary Reservists in 2018. This was the case for both men and women. The findings were also consistent with those typically seen in the general population.

Overall, sexual assault was more prevalent among members of the Primary Reserve than it was among members of the Regular Force, and Reservists experienced a higher prevalence of each type of sexual assault. Of note, Reservists are a comparatively younger population—34% of Reservists were 24 years of age or younger, compared with 8% of Regular Force members—and the prevalence of sexual assault, both in the Canadian Armed Forces and the general population, is higher among younger individuals.

Reporting of sexual assault to anyone in authority increases among Reservists, unchanged in the Regular Force

Most victims of sexual assault in the Regular Force (57%) said that the incidents did not come to the attention of anyone in authority. One-quarter (25%) stated that someone in authority found out about the incident in some way, while 17% did not know if anyone in authority found out. These proportions were similar to the 2016 results.

In contrast to the Regular Force, reporting of sexual assault to someone in authority increased significantly in the Primary Reserve, from 18% in 2016 to 30% in 2018. At the same time, more Reservists cited a fear of negative consequences as a reason for not reporting sexual assault. The proportion of Reservists who feared negative consequences rose from 25% in 2016 to 40% in 2018. Fear of negative consequences kept more than half of female Reservists (52%) from reporting the sexual assault incident.

Over half of all sexual assaults perpetrated by a peer

In both the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve, more than half of all sexual assaults in the military workplace involved a peer.

One notable exception came among female Reservists, who stated that a significant proportion of these incidents involved a supervisor or someone of a higher rank (51%, up from 38% in 2016). Overall, the proportion of sexual assaults perpetrated by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank increased in the Primary Reserve from 2016 (33%) to 2018 (44%). For women in the Regular Force, however, the proportion of sexual assaults perpetrated by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank declined compared with 2016, falling from 49% to 38% in 2018.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force and Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by gender and selected characteristics of perpetrators, 2018
Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force and Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by gender and selected characteristics of perpetrators, 2018

Among both the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve, more than 9 in 10 women who were sexually assaulted identified the perpetrator as male. For men, the proportion who identified the perpetrator as male was 49% for members of the Regular Force and 56% among those in the Primary Reserve.

Witnessing or experiencing sexualized or discriminatory behaviours less common than in 2016 

A higher proportion of Primary Reserve members witnessed or experienced almost all types of sexualized or discriminatory behaviours than did members of the Regular Force. However, declines were noted for both Regular Force members and Reservists over the two-year period. In 2018, 70% of Regular Force members saw, heard, or experienced inappropriate sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the military workplace or involving military members in the 12 months prior to the survey, down from 80% in 2016.

For those in the Primary Reserve, the proportion who witnessed or experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours fell from 82% in 2016 to 71% in 2018. This was largely the result of a decrease in the number of male Reservists witnessing or experiencing these behaviours.

While declines in many sexualized and discriminatory behaviours were noted, the prevalence of certain behaviours did not decrease from 2016 to 2018. Experiencing repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations, and offering workplace benefits for sexual activity did not decrease in either the Regular Force or the Primary Reserve. Like sexual assaults, these behaviours were most likely to involve lone perpetrators.

Fewer personal experiences of sexualized or discriminatory behaviour

Fewer Regular Force members were personally targeted by sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, down from 17% in 2016 to 15% in 2018. Close to 3 in 10 (28%) women in the Regular Force experienced at least one type of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviour, compared with 13% of men.

Personally targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours also decreased among Primary Reservists, from 20% in 2016 to 17% in 2018. The overall decline was due to the experiences of male Reservists, as the proportion of female members who were targeted in this way did not decrease. About one-third (34%) of female Reservists experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in 2018, as did 13% of their male colleagues.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force and Primary Reserve members who witnessed or experienced or personally experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviour, or who were sexually assaulted, 2016 and 2018
Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force and Primary Reserve members who witnessed or experienced or personally experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviour, or who were sexually assaulted, 2016 and 2018

Increase in reporting sexualized or discriminatory behaviours to persons in authority

Unlike sexual assault, the reporting of sexualized or discriminatory behaviours to someone in authority increased in the Regular Force, from 26% in 2016 to 28% in 2018. In particular, a larger proportion of instances of discrimination and of unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations were reported to someone in authority.

Reporting of targeted sexual or discriminatory behaviours to someone in authority also increased for the Primary Reserve, from 2016 (25%) to 2018 (30%). In particular, reporting increased for discrimination on the basis of sex and for inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication.

After witnessing sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, about 4 in 10 men in the Regular Force took action at least once. The same was true for just over half of women in the Regular Force who witnessed sexualized or discriminatory behaviours. The most common action taken was talking to the person or persons responsible for the behaviour, regardless of who witnessed the behaviour or the type of behaviour witnessed. These findings were the same for Primary Reserve members.

Both Regular Force and Primary Reserve members are more positive about Operation HONOUR and their current unit

Launched in 2015 as part of the Canadian Armed Forces' response to sexual misconduct in its workplace, Operation HONOUR includes programs aimed at combating inappropriate sexual behaviour, helping victims, and encouraging the reporting of misconduct. In 2018, 45% of Regular Force members felt that Operation HONOUR has been very or extremely effective so far, and 49% felt that it will be very or extremely effective moving forward.

More members of the Regular Force felt positively about the program, compared with two years earlier. In 2016, 30% felt that Operation HONOUR has been slightly or not at all effective. By 2018, that proportion had fallen to 17%.

Similar to their colleagues in the Regular Force, Primary Reservists generally held favourable opinions on how the Canadian Armed Forces has responded to workplace sexual misconduct. More specifically, 45% felt that Operation HONOUR has been very or extremely effective, and 51% felt that it would continue to be effective in the future. Meanwhile, 13% stated that they saw Operation HONOUR as slightly or not at all effective, down from 25% in 2016.

In 2018, 9 in 10 members of both the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve felt that complaints about inappropriate sexual behaviour are (or would be) taken seriously in their current unit. Similar numbers reported feeling that inappropriate sexual behaviour is not tolerated in their unit, and that the Canadian Armed Forces currently works hard to create a workplace that prevents inappropriate sexual behaviour. In both the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve, more members agreed with these statements in 2018 than in 2016.

Chart 3  Chart 3: Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force and Primary Reserve members' awareness of directives and responses related to sexual misconduct, 2018
Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force and Primary Reserve members' awareness of directives and responses related to sexual misconduct, 2018

More than half (54%) of women and 40% of men in the Regular Force agreed that inappropriate sexual behaviour is a problem in the Canadian Armed Forces in 2018. Both proportions increased slightly from 2016. This, along with the more positive perceptions of Operation HONOUR as a whole and of their unit specifically, suggests that there may be greater awareness and understanding of inappropriate sexual behaviour than in 2016.

Similar to members of the Regular Force, the proportion of Primary Reservists who viewed sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces as problematic increased from 42% in 2016 to 47% in 2018. This increase was mostly noted among individuals who had not been sexually assaulted or targeted by sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the previous year—which suggests a growing awareness of misconduct among those least likely to have been personally affected.

Awareness of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre increasing

Just over half (52%) of Regular Force members were very aware of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC), up from 41% in 2016. Likewise, awareness of the SMRC increased significantly among Reservists, from 30% who were very aware in 2016 to 40% in 2018. In both the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve, this increase was noted among both men and women.




  Note to readers

This report is based on results from the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces conducted by Statistics Canada in 2018 on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces. From September to November 2018, active Regular Force and Primary Reserve members were invited to complete a voluntary survey conducted under the authority of the Statistics Act asking about their experiences and perceptions of inappropriate sexualized behaviour, discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and sexual assault within the Canadian Armed Forces. This included witnessing or experiencing these types of behaviours within the military workplace, or outside the military workplace but involving other military members or Department of Defence civilians or contractors.

Responses were received from over 36,000 active members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including members of the Regular Force and Primary Reserve.

The response rate among Regular Force members was 52%, down from 2016 (61%). In all, 28,541 Regular Force members completed and submitted the questionnaire in 2018; their responses were weighted so as to represent the entire Regular Force population. After weighting, the submitted responses represented approximately 55,900 Regular Force members.

The response rate among Primary Reserve members was 29%, down from 2016 (36%). In all, 7,938 Primary Reservists completed and submitted the questionnaire in 2018; their responses were weighted so as to represent the entire Primary Reserve population. After weighting, the submitted responses represented approximately 27,600 Primary Reserve members.

As with all Statistics Canada surveys, respondents were informed that their individual responses would be protected under the Statistics Act.

Regular Force and Primary Reserve

Regular Force members comprise the majority of the Canadian Armed Forces. Members of the Regular Force serve Canada on a full-time basis. Unlike the Regular Force, the Primary Reserve is composed of predominantly part-time members who serve in community level units located throughout Canada and may consent to serve full-time for a range of employment within the Canadian Armed Forces, including operations for periods ranging from weeks to years. This may include full-time employment for non-operational roles, such as training or support to an operational unit (Class B), or full-time deployment on domestic or international operations (Class C).

Military workplace

For the purposes of this survey, the military workplace was defined as anywhere on a base, wing, or ship, including barracks and messes, as well as deployments, temporary duty/attached posting, and training courses. The military workplace also included sanctioned events (events approved by the Chain of Command or someone in authority within a unit), such as parades, mess dinners, unit parties, unit sports activities, adventure training, or course parties.

Behaviours included in the definition of sexual misconduct

Sexual assault

  • Sexual attack: Someone forced you or attempted to force you into any unwanted sexual activity, by threatening you, holding you down, or hurting you in some way.
  • Unwanted sexual touching: Someone touched you against your will in any sexual way, including unwanted touching or grabbing, kissing, or fondling.
  • Sexual activity where unable to consent: Someone subjected you to a sexual activity to which you were not able to consent, including being drugged, intoxicated, manipulated, or forced in ways other than physically.

Sexualized behaviours

Inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication

  • Sexual jokes
  • Unwanted sexual attention
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Inappropriate discussion about sex life.

Sexually explicit materials

  • Displaying, showing, or sending sexually explicit materials
  • Taking and/or posting inappropriate or sexually suggestive photos or videos of any CAF members without consent.

Physical contact or sexual relations

  • Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts
  • Repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relationships
  • Unwelcome physical contact or getting too close
  • Offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activity or being mistreated for not engaging in sexual activity.

Discriminatory behaviours

Discrimination on the basis of sex

  • Suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act or a woman does not act like a woman is supposed to act
  • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sex
  • Comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because of their sex.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity

  • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation
  • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because they are (or are assumed to be) transgender.

Products

The publications Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve, 2018 and Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force, 2018 (Catalogue number85-603-X) are now available.

The Infographic "Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve 2018: Key trends since 2016," which is part of Statistics Canada — Infographics (Catalogue number11-627-M), is also now available.

The Infographic "Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force 2018: Key trends since 2016," which is part of Statistics Canada — Infographics (Catalogue number11-627-M), is also now available.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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