Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve, 2018

by Marta Burczycka

Release date: May 22, 2019

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Highlights

Section 1: Sexual assault

  • In 2018, approximately 600 Primary Reservists in the Canadian Armed Forces indicated that they had been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months while in the military workplace or by a military member, Department of National Defense civilian or contractor. This represented 2.2% of all Primary Reservists, a proportion that was statistically unchanged from 2016.
  • Approximately 1 in 14 (7.0%) female Reservists—over 300 women—reported that they had been sexually assaulted in the context of the military workplace during the previous 12 months. This compared to 1.2% of male Reservists.
  • Unwanted sexual touching was the most common form of sexual assault, experienced by 1.9% of Primary Reservists. This was followed by sexual attacks (0.5%) and sexual activity where the individual was unable to consent due to incapacitation or being forced in a non-physical way (0.4%). About one in five (21%) victims had experienced more than one type of sexual assault.
  • Most sexual assaults involved a peer in the military workplace (54%). Among female Reservists specifically, however, a significant proportion involved a supervisor or someone of a higher rank (51%).
  • The proportion of sexual assaults that were perpetrated by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank increased between 2016 and 2018 (33% to 44%). No other types of perpetrator-victim relationship changed in a significant way over that time.
  • In 2018, Reservists indicated that under a third (30%) of sexual assaults had been reported to someone in authority, a significant increase from 2016 (18%).

Section 2: Sexualized and discriminatory behaviours

  • Between 2016 and 2018, the proportion of Primary Reservists who witnessed or experienced inappropriate sexual or discriminatory behaviour declined, falling from eight in ten members (82%) to seven in ten (71%). This decline was primarily reflective of decreases among male Reservists.
  • Witnessing or experiencing unwelcome physical contact or getting too close, repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations and offering workplace benefits for sexual activity did not decline between 2016 and 2018. Some of these were also the behaviours most likely to happen in one-on-one situations and where women were most overrepresented as targets.
  • Reservists reported declines in personal experiences of inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication (18% to 14%), behaviours involving sexually explicit materials (3.3% to 2.4%) and discrimination on the basis of sex (6.8% to 5.7%) between 2016 and 2018.
  • As with sexual assault, the reporting of targeted sexual or discriminatory behaviours to someone in authority increased between 2016 (25%) and 2018 (30%).
  • Just under half of Reservists who had witnessed discrimination (47%) and inappropriate sexual communication (44%) said that they took action in at least one instance, as did 42% of those who witnessed other types of sexually inappropriate behaviours (including inappropriate materials, unwanted touching and others). Those who took action were generally more likely to intervene themselves than to contact someone in authority.

Section 3: Knowledge and perceptions of policies and responses to sexual misconduct

  • In general, Primary Reservists held favourable opinions on how the Canadian Armed Forces has responded to sexual misconduct in its workplace; for example, seven in ten strongly agreed that the Canadian Armed Forces currently works hard to create a workplace that prevents inappropriate sexualized behaviour (73%). The proportion of members who strongly agreed increased by 14 percentage points between 2016 and 2018.
  • Across several different measures, female Reservists in general and Reservists who had experienced sexual assault or targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours were less likely than others to hold positive views of the Canadian Armed Forces’ responses to sexual misconduct.
  • Increasing proportions of Reservists—particularly men and individuals who had not experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the previous year—viewed sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces as problematic. This increase—going from 17% who strongly agreed that misconduct was a problem in the Canadian Armed Forces in 2016, to 20% in 2018—suggests a growing awareness of misconduct, in terms of how to recognize it and its implications.

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Introduction

Within any organization, sexual misconduct can be indicative of imbalances of power that exist between the people involved. When they occur in a workplace, behaviours ranging from sexualized jokes to discrimination to sexual assaults can create an environment in which members feel uncomfortable, disrespected and unsafe. Recent developments in Canada and beyond have added to ongoing conversations about sexual misconduct and its forms, causes and effects. The #MeToo movement has been prominent in public discourse since gaining global attention in 2017 (Tippett 2018), and investigations into harassment within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have received considerable media attention in Canada (for example, see Woo 2016). In line with this broader societal conversation, in 2015 an independent external review on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) warned that a pervasive sexualized culture had become entrenched in the military workplace (Deschamps 2015).

In August 2015, the CAF launched Operation HONOUR. Since its implementation, Operation HONOUR has enacted new training and education protocols, programs designed to help victims and encourage the reporting of misconduct, and many new policies aimed at combating harassment and inappropriate sexual behaviour (Department of National Defence 2017).

Key to the development of these initiatives was the collection of data on members’ experiences and perceptions of sexual misconduct in the military workplace. Statistics Canada was contracted to design and implement a voluntary survey of all active CAF members: the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (SSMCAF). Results from the first survey cycle, conducted in 2016, focused on the experiences of Regular Force members and found that witnessing or experiencing sexualized or discriminatory behaviours was relatively common in the military workplace (Cotter 2016). Sexual assaultNote  was also more common among military members than in the general population. WomenNote  in the CAF were at a greater risk of both sexual assault, and sexual and discriminatory behaviour—findings which were consistent with previous studies conducted in the general Canadian population, as well as those that focused on the military workplace (Conroy and Cotter 2017; Gidycz et al. 2018).Note 

The SSMCAF was repeated in 2018 to gauge changes in the prevalence of sexual assault and sexualized and discriminatory behaviours that may have taken place since the implementation of Operation HONOUR. The present report focuses on the prevalence and trends associated with these behaviours specifically in the CAF Primary Reserve, within the context of sex, age, rank, and other factors wherever possible.Note  Some comparisons with the Regular Force are also included. For detailed information on members of the Regular Force, see “Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force, 2018” (Cotter 2019).

Service in the Primary Reserve overlaps with the Regular Force in several ways. For instance, about 19% of Reservists surveyed in 2015 indicated that they had served in the Regular Force prior to joining the Primary Reserve (Anderson 2018). The Primary Reserve is, however, a unique population within the CAF, with characteristics that have bearing on its members’ relationships with the military workplace. For example, Reservists as a group are younger than their colleagues in the Regular Force: in 2018, 54% were under age 30, compared to 27% of Regular Force members. More importantly, Primary Reservists are predominantly part-time employees, who balance their CAF service with academic studies or careers in the civilian world. As highlighted by Anderson (2018), this “key difference is important to remember when considering the experiences, perceptions, and attitudes of [Primary Reserve] members” (p.3). The fact that in general, Reservists spend less time in a military workplace may influence their degree of exposure to both CAF workplace culture and its training programs and initiatives. One may also expect that Reservists’ time spent in academic environments or civilian workplaces may also influence their perceptions of the social contexts in which they find themselves, including their time in the military workplace.

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Measuring sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces

Sexual misconduct, as defined by the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (SSMCAF), includes sexual assault, sexualized behaviours, and discriminatory behaviours on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Sexual assault

The Criminal Code of Canada covers a broad range of experiences—ranging from unwanted sexual touching to sexual violence resulting in maiming, wounding, or endangering the life of the victim—as sexual assault (Kong et al. 2003; Statistics Canada 1993). Estimates of sexual assault can be derived through three questions in the SSMCAF (see Text box 1 table).

The incidents captured by the SSMCAF were those which occurred within the military workplace, outside the military workplace but involving military members, Department of National Defence (DND) civilians or DND contractors, or incidents involving family members or dating partners who were also Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members, DND civilians, or DND contractors.

Sexualized and discriminatory behaviours

The SSMCAF asked about witnessing (i.e., seeing or hearing) or experiencing, as well as being personally targeted by, fifteen behaviours. These behaviours fall into five broad categories (see Text box 1 table) which, along with sexual assault, are defined as sexual misconduct. With some minor changes in terminology, these questions were also asked in the first cycle of the SSMCAF.


Text box 1 table
Behaviours included in the definition of sexual misconduct
Table summary
This table displays the results of Behaviours included in the definition of sexual misconduct. The information is grouped by Theme (appearing as row headers), Categories and Questionnaire items (appearing as column headers).
Theme Categories Questionnaire items
Sexual assault Sexual attack Forced or attempted to force into any unwanted sexual activity, by threatening, holding down, or hurting in some way
Unwanted sexual touching Touched against your will in any sexual way, including unwanted touching or grabbing, kissing, or fondling
Sexual activity where unable to consent Subjected 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 sexual 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 suggested sexual relations Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts
Repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations
Unwelcome physical contact or getting too close
Being offered 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 that a woman does not act like a woman is supposed to actText table Note 1
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) transText table Note 2

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Key concepts for the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces

Regular Force and Primary Reserve

The analysis in this report focuses on Primary Reserve members. Unlike the Regular Force, the Primary Reserve is composed of predominantly part-time (Class A) 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 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). Some comparisons between Primary Reservists and Regular Force members are included in this report; for detailed analysis of sexual misconduct in the Regular Force, see Cotter (2019).

Ranks

For the purposes of this survey, four groupings of rank within the Canadian Armed Forces are explored. From lowest ranking group to highest ranking group, these are Junior Non-Commissioned Members (for example, Private, Aviator or Corporal), Senior Non-Commissioned Members (for example, Sergeant, Petty Officer or Warrant Officer), Junior Officers (for example, Lieutenant or Captain) and Senior Officers (for example, Major or Colonel).

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. It should be noted that, in the military context, the notion of workplace and work time is often less rigidly or easily separated from non-work than it is in the civilian context (Gidycz et al. 2018).

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Section 1: Sexual assault

Sexual assault is among the most serious violent crimes. When it occurs in the context of the workplace, it can have particular consequences for victims as well as for those around them (Garrett 2011). The SSMCAF aimed to measure the prevalence of sexual assault in the Primary Reserve through three questions designed to be comparable to the definitions of sexual assault included in the Criminal Code (see Text box 1). Reservists were asked about their experiences of sexual assault in the military workplace or perpetrated by military members, Department of National Defence civilians or contractors in the 12 months preceding the survey. Importantly, the survey results reflect only the experiences of those still active within the CAF,Note  and do not include those who have left the CAF for any reason, including those who may have experienced victimization.

Sexual assault among Primary Reservists remains stable

In 2018, approximately 600 Primary Reservists—that is, 2.2% of all members of the Primary Reserve—indicated that they had been sexually assaulted in the military workplace or by a military member, DND civilian or contractor in the 12 months preceding the survey (Table 1; Chart 1). There was no statistically significant change from the proportion of Reservists who had been sexually assaulted in 2016 (2.6%).Note 

Chart 1 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by gender, 2016 and 2018

Data table for Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Women, Men and Total, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Women MenData table Note  TotalData table Note 1
percent
2016 8.2Note * 1.4 2.6
2018 7.0Note * 1.2 2.2

When it came to specific types of sexual assault experienced by Primary Reservists, unwanted sexual touching was the most common form, affecting 1.9% of members in 2018. Sexual attacks were less common (0.5%), as were incidents in which an individual was subjected to sexual activity to which they were unable to consent due to intoxication, manipulation or being forced in a non-physical way (0.4%). Two-thirds (67%) of victims of any type of sexual assault indicated that unwanted sexual touching was the sole type of assault that they had experienced, while 6.1%E stated that they had experienced solely sexual attacks. Another 21% reported that they had experienced more than one form of sexual assault in the preceding 12 months.

Female Reservists at greater risk of sexual assault than their male counterparts

Studies have consistently shown that in Canada, women are at a greater risk of sexual assault then men (Conroy and Cotter 2017; Perreault 2015), and the same is true within the Canadian Primary Reserve. According to the 2018 SSMCAF, the Primary Reserve is an organization in which men outnumber women five to one, with approximately 23,000 male members (83%) compared to 4,400 females (16%) in 2018. Despite this underrepresentation, female Reservists comprised just over half of all victims of sexual assault (51%) while males made up 47% of victimsNote . In total, 7.0% of female Reservists—over 300 women—reported that they had been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months. This compared to 1.2% of male Reservists (also approximately 300 men). In comparison, in 2016, 8.2% of female Reservists and 1.4% of their male counterparts indicated that they had been the victim of sexual assault; however, no significant difference in these proportions was noted when compared to 2018.

As with the Canadian population in general (Conroy and Cotter 2017), younger Reservists were at higher risk for sexual assault than their older counterparts, with 2.8% of those aged 24 and younger and 3.1% of those aged 25 to 29 stating that they had been sexually assaulted (Table 2). The 24-and-younger group was also the only age group to see statistically significant change in sexual assault prevalence between 2016 and 2018. Over this time, the prevalence of sexual assault decreased from 4.0% to 2.8% among Reservists aged 24 and younger. Of note, this change was reflective of a decrease (from 18% to 12%) among female Reservists in this age group; among their male counterparts, no statistically significant decline was found.

Differences in the prevalence of sexual assault among Reservists in 2018 were also noted by rank level. Junior Non-Commissioned Members reported a higher prevalence than Senior Non-Commissioned Members and Junior Officers (2.6% versus 1.3% and 1.6%E, respectively). It should be noted that rank and age tend to be correlated, and sexual assault was found to be more prevalent among younger Reservists. In line with changes seen among younger Reservists, Junior Non-Commissioned Members experienced a slightly lower prevalence of sexual assault in 2018 (2.6%) than they had in 2016 (3.3%).

Members who identified as IndigenousNote  were at a higher risk of sexual assault than their non-Indigenous counterparts in 2018: 6.1%E reported having been sexually assaulted in the preceding 12 months, a proportion three times higher than that reported by non-Indigenous members (2.0%). No statistically significant change over time was found when it came to the prevalence of sexual assault among Indigenous Reservists.

No statistically significant difference was found between Reservists who identified as a visible minority and those that did not when it came to the prevalence of sexual assault in 2018 (2.4%E and 2.2%, respectively). Likewise, no such differences were detected when sexual assault among this group was compared over time. However, a decrease was noted among non-visible minority women specifically, from 8.0% in 2016 to 6.3% in 2018. No concurrent change was noted among their counterparts who identified as a visible minority (11%E in both 2016 and 2018).

Of note, regardless of the demographic characteristics being examined, female Reservists consistently experienced a higher prevalence of sexual assault than their male counterparts.

When it came to environmental command, in 2018, Reservists in the Royal Canadian Navy reported a higher overall prevalence of sexual assault than their colleagues in the Canadian Army (3.6% versus 2.2%). However, this was largely reflective of the experiences of male members: among females, the prevalence of sexual assault was higher among Army Reservists. Of note, this marked a change from 2016: that year, female Naval Reservists reported a higher prevalence than female Army Reservists. Between 2016 and 2018, the prevalence of sexual assault among women in the Naval Reserves decreased significantly (11% to 6.0%E).

Primary Reservists experienced a higher prevalence of sexual assault than did members of the CAF Regular Force (2.2% versus 1.6%), and unwanted sexual touching was the most common form of sexual assault in both organizations. As was the case in the Regular Force, women in the Reserves were more likely than men to be victimized this way. In both organizations, the proportions of members who had been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months was unchanged between 2016 and 2018. For more information on sexual assault in the Regular Force, see Cotter 2019.

Sexual assault prevalence differs by class of service

Primary Reservists can work a part-time schedule, a full-time schedule, or a combination of part- and full-time depending upon the class of service. The 2018 SSMCAF asked Reservists about the class of service in which they had worked during the previous year. Members could indicate whether they worked in the Reserves on a part-time basis only (Class A), a full-time basis only (Class B and/or C), or in a mixed group which included time spent in a combination of part- and full-time assignments.Note  Overall, half (50%) of Reservists reported working in the mixed group, while 25% reported only part-time service and 24% reported only full-time service.Note 

Part-time Reservists had a lower overall prevalence (1.0%E) of sexual assault than either full-time members (2.0%) or members that had worked a combination of full- and part-time in the previous 12 months (2.9%) (Chart 2). Reservists in the part-time only group likely have less interaction with other Reservists due to fewer hours spent in the military workplace, which may partly explain their lower incidence of workplace sexual assault.

Meanwhile, Reservists who worked in the mixed group reported a higher incidence of sexual assault than either of the other groups. This may be related to their age profile: over two-thirds (68%) of mixed group Reservists were aged 29 and younger, compared to 42% of Class A Reservists and 35% of Reservists in the Class B and/or C group. Large scale population studies consistently show that younger people are at a higher risk of sexual assault (Conroy and Cotter 2017).

Chart 2 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by class of service and type of sexual assault, 2018

Data table for Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Type of sexual assault (appearing as row headers), Class A, Class B/C and Mixed, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of sexual assault Class AData table Note  Class B/C Mixed
percent
Total sexual assault 1.0Note E: Use with caution 2.0Note * 2.9Note *
Sexual attack Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 0.7Note E: Use with caution
Sexual touching 0.9Note E: Use with caution 1.8Note * 2.5Note *
Sexual activity where unable to consent Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 0.5Note E: Use with caution

The way in which information on class of service was collected by the 2018 SSMCAF differed from 2016. For this reason, trend comparisons are not possible. However, an analysis of the 2016 data completed by Department of National Defence (DND) scientists included analysis of sexual assault by class of service. LeBlanc and Wang (2017) focussed on differences by class among women and among men. They found that women working in Class A were more likely to have been sexually assaulted than those in Class B and/or C, and less likely than those in the mixed group. This was in line with the present report’s findings based on 2018 data, in which Class A women had a significantly lower prevalence of sexual assault than those working in the mixed group (4.9%E versus 10%). LeBlanc and Wang (2017) also found that Class A men were less likely than those in either of the other groups to have experienced sexual assault; meanwhile, small sample size prevents discussion of men’s experiences by class in the present (2018) report.Note  The relative age profiles of Reservists in the various groups was also highlighted by LeBlanc and Wang (2017) as a potential factor behind the variation in prevalence between the classes.

Women more likely to be sexually assaulted by a supervisor, men by a peer

In the Primary Reserve, members who experienced a sexual assault in the previous 12 months most often indicated that the person responsible was a peer in the military workplace (54%), as opposed to a supervisor or someone of a higher rank (44%) or a subordinate (16%E) (Table 3).Note 

Sexual assault in the workplace can be indicative of underlying power imbalances existing between the people involved (Garrett 2011). Keeping in mind that female Reservists were more likely to be victims of sexual assault, they were also more likely than their male counterparts to have been sexually assaulted by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank (51%, versus 36%E among males) (Chart 3). Furthermore, between 2016 and 2018, the proportion of sexual assaults that were perpetrated by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank increased (33% to 44%). No other types of perpetrator-victim relationship changed in a significant way over that time, including when all other types of perpetrator-victim relationship were considered together.

Chart 3 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by gender and selected characteristics of perpetrators, 2018

Data table for Chart 3

Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Directive, policy, or program (appearing as row headers), Female victims and Male victims, calculated using percent who are very aware units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Selected characteristics of perpetrators Female victims Male victimsData table Note 
percent
Perpetrator is a peer 46Note * 65
Perpetrator is a supervisor or someone of higher rank 51Note * 36Note E: Use with caution
Lone perpetrator 90Note * 77
Perpetrator always male 96Note * 56

In addition to peers and supervisors, Reservists who were victims of sexual assault in the military workplace sometimes identified subordinates inside or outside of their chain of command (16%E), strangers (9.1%E) and other non-specified persons associated with the military workplace (6.1%E) as the perpetrators.

When it came to rank, almost three-quarters (74%) of Reservists who had been victimized indicated that the sexual assault had been committed by a Junior Non-Commissioned Member. In contrast, 4.8%E indicated that a Senior Officer was responsible.

As men make up 83% of the Primary Reserve, it may stand to reason that they would also be overrepresented as the perpetrators of sexual assault. The large majority of Reservists (76%) who experienced a sexual assault stated that in all cases, the person(s) responsible were male. Among Reservists overall, 14%E reported that the sexual assaults that they had experienced were committed by women only, while 10%E said that a combination of male and female perpetrators were involved.

This largely reflected the experiences of female members, 96% of whom said that men had perpetrated each sexual assault. For male members who had been sexually assaulted, on the other hand, the proportion who indicated that in all cases the persons responsible were men was considerably lower (56%). Instead, almost three in ten (28%E) male sexual assault victims reported that women had been solely responsible.

In most cases, Reservists indicated that one sole perpetrator was involved in the sexual assault (83%). This proportion was higher among female victims when compared to males (90% versus 77%), and remained unchanged from 2016.

The SSMCAF asked Reservists who had been sexually assaulted whether or not, in their opinion, the incident(s) had been related to perpetrator’s use of drugs or alcohol.Note  Just under half (47%) of Reservists who had been sexual assaulted stated that they believed this to have been the case. In comparison, four in ten (39%) did not believe drugs or alcohol were involved. Of note, 14% of victims did not know whether the sexual assault was related to the perpetrator’s drug or alcohol use.

Reporting of sexual assaults to someone in authority low but increasing

Sexual assault is among the most under-reported crimes in Canada, with relatively few victims ever reporting their experiences to police (Cotter and Conroy 2017). In the context of the military workplace in particular, sexual assault victims may experience even greater reluctance to come forward (Bell et al. 2014).

In 2018, the majority of Primary Reservists (61%) who were the victims of sexual assault in the military workplace or involving military personnel or civilian employees in the preceding 12 months stated that none of the incidents that they experienced had been brought to the attention of someone in authority.Note  Just under one-third (30%) of victims stated that those in authority had been made aware of at least one incident that they experienced, while almost one in ten (9.2%) victims did not know whether the sexual assault(s) had been brought to the attention of someone in authority (in cases where reporting by a third party was possible). Similar to patterns seen in the general population, female victims more often indicated that authorities had been informed of the assaults, relative to male victims (35% versus 24%).

The reporting of sexual assaults was similar for sexual attacks and unwanted sexual touching. While 39%E of victims of sexual attacks and 27% of victims of unwanted sexual touching indicated that at least one incident had been brought to the attention of someone in authority, this difference was not found to be statistically significant.Note 

Though people in authority had remained unaware of the majority of sexual assaults experienced by Reservists in 2018, reporting of sexual assaults to those in authority increased substantially between 2016 and 2018. In 2016, 18% of victims indicated that a person in authority had been made aware of the sexual assault(s); this rose to 30% in 2018 (Chart 4).Note  This increase was driven by more reporting of unwanted sexual touching, which grew from 18% of Reservists who experienced it in 2016 to 27% in 2018.

In contrast, reporting of sexual assault within the Regular Force did not change in a statistically significant way between 2016 and 2018. In both years, about a quarter of members who had been assaulted indicated that someone in authority had been made aware of one or more incidents (23% in 2016 and 25% in 2018) (Cotter 2019).

Chart 4 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by type of sexual assault and reporting to someone in authority, 2016 and 2018

Data table for Chart 4

Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Type of sexual assault (appearing as row headers), 2016 and 2018, calculated using percent reported to someone in authority units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of sexual assault 2016Data table Note  2018
percent reported to someone in authority
Total sexual assaultData table Note 1 18 30Note *
Sexual attack 38Note E: Use with caution 39Note E: Use with caution
Unwanted sexual touching 18 27Note *

In 2018, the largest proportion of Primary Reservists whose sexual assaults were reported to someone in authority stated that the reporting had been to their supervisor in the military (26%). Smaller proportions were reported to someone else in the victims’ chain of command (16%E), or to the Military Police or the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service (CFNIS) (8.3%E). These proportions were unchanged from 2016.

Research on sexual assaults in the general Canadian population has found that in many cases, a significant amount of time may pass before a sexual assault is reported to police. Looking at sexual assaults that occurred in Canada between 2009 and 2014, for instance, 13% were not reported to police until one year or more after they happened (Rotenberg 2017). Since the SSMCAF asked Reservists about sexual assaults that had happened in the previous year, it is possible that some of the incidents that they described may have been reported to authorities after the survey was administered.

Most sexual assault victims dissatisfied with actions taken by authorities

Among Reservists whose sexual assaults were reported to someone in authority other than the CFNIS or the Military Police, 43%E said that some sort of follow-up had ensued.Note  Follow-up may have included actions such as the issuing of a report or the undertaking of an investigation. Despite an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults, an increased proportion of Reservists were dissatisfied with the actions taken by those in authority other than the CFNIS or the Military Police when reporting took place. In 2018, over half (57%) were dissatisfied with the actions taken—nearly double the proportion who were dissatisfied in 2016 (28%E). Meanwhile, the proportion who reported being satisfied decreased by almost one-half over this time (53% in 2016 to 23%E in 2018).Note Note 

Female victims fear negative consequences could result from reporting sexual assault to authorities

People who are victims of sexual assault may have many reasons for not reporting their experiences to those in authority. Among Primary Reservists who experienced a sexual assault in the previous 12 months and did not report the incident, the most common reason for not doing so was because they resolved the issue on their own (45%) (Chart 5). Four in ten (40%) members said that they did not report because they were afraid of negative consequences, while about three in ten stated that it was because the incident was not serious enough (29%), because the behaviour stopped (28%), and because they did not feel that reporting would make a difference (28%).Note  Regardless of the type of sexual assault, fear of negative consequences was a prominent reason for not reporting.Note 

Female Reservists who had been sexually assaulted and did not report the incident were considerably more likely than their male counterparts to state that fear of negative consequences prevented them from doing so (52% versus 29%). No statistically significant differences between men and women were found when it came to the other reasons provided. As noted, women were more likely to be sexually assaulted by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank; the consequences of reporting when the perpetrator is a superior may be seen by some victims as particularly foreboding. Further, research into workplaces whose cultures prioritize values such as strength, resilience and the ability to function in dangerous environments—including the military workplace—suggests victims may feel reluctance to report sexual assaults as doing so could be seen as being contrary to those values, and could thus bring negative consequences (Bell et al. 2014).

Chart 5 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, by gender and reasons for not reporting to someone in authority, 2018

Data table for Chart 5

Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Reasons for not reporting to someone in authority
(appearing as row headers), Women, Men and Total, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Reasons for not reporting to someone in authority
Women MenData table Note  Total
percent
Resolved on my own 38 54 45
Afraid of negative consequences 52Note * 29Note E: Use with caution 40
Not serious enough 24Note E: Use with caution 35Note E: Use with caution 29
Behaviour stopped 34 23Note E: Use with caution 28
Did not believe it would make a difference 35 22Note E: Use with caution 28
Concerns about formal complaint process 33 Note F: too unreliable to be published 21Note E: Use with caution

Fear of negative consequences as a barrier to reporting sexual assault increases

Fear of negative consequences as a reason for not reporting sexual assault to those in authority grew between 2016 and 2018. This reason was more commonly given by Reservists in 2018 than it had been in 2016 (40% versus 25%), and was the only reason for not reporting sexual assault that changed during this time. The increase was driven by the experiences of female members: in 2016, fear of negative consequences of reporting sexual assault was cited by 35% of female Reservists who had been sexually assaulted. In 2018, this proportion rose to 52%.

Of note, the increase in fear of negative consequences could be an unintentional side effect of policies related to the reporting of sexual assaults that are promoted by Operation HONOUR. According to a 2018 Auditor General’s report, CAF policies stress that all members have a duty to report sexual assaults that come to their attention—and third-party reporting can trigger investigations and other consequences that victims may see as undesirable (Office of the Auditor General of Canada 2018).

One in six victims use support services provided by the CAF

Use of support services, including CAF or civilian medical, mental health or spiritual services, was rare among Primary Reservists who had been the victim of sexual assault. A minority (22%) stated that they had accessed such supports following the incident, a proportion that was relatively equal among female and male victims. One in six (16%) Reservists who had been sexually assaulted made use of services offered by the CAF, including 6%E who spoke to CAF mental health services.

One in ten (11%E) sought help from civilian services.Note  Reservists’ use of services following a sexual assault was in line with what is seen in the general population, where most victims report that they did not access services following the incident (Conroy and Cotter 2017).

Although in 2018, the proportion of Reservists who accessed support services following a sexual assault was relatively small, it represented an increase of nine percentage points: in 2016, 13% of victims had utilized supports offered through the CAF or in the civilian sphere. Notably, the increase was reflective of the experiences of male victims: in 2016, 96% stated that they had not sought any support following the incident, compared to 82% in 2018.

Military base, wing, or formation was most common location of sexual assault

Most sexual assaults happened within the military workplace (85%), as opposed to sexual assaults involving military members, DND civilians or contractors that happened in other public or private locations (33%).Note  The most common military workplace location was on a military base, wing or formation (48%). Sexual assaults that happened outside the military workplace, but involved military members, DND civilians or contractors were twice as common among female Reservists who had been victimized as among their male counterparts. Among female victims, sexual assaults that occurred outside the military workplace commonly occurred at private residences (19%E).

Sexual assault victims experience wide range of workplace-related and personal impacts

Sexual assault can have wide-ranging impacts on victims, affecting many different facets of life. This can be especially serious when these incidents happen within the work environment and involve, potentially, colleagues or supervisors. Members of the Primary Reserve who had been sexually assaulted were asked about a series of effects and whether they had experienced these consequences always, sometimes or never. Almost three in ten victims reported that they always wanted to avoid specific people at work as a result of being sexually assaulted (29%); about one in five always experienced negative emotional impacts, including depression, anxiety, fear or anger because of the sexual assault (21%) (Table 4). Reservists also reported always wanting to stay away from specific locations on the base, wing, or formation (18%), losing trust in their chain of command (17%), losing trust in their unit (17%), experiencing negative impacts on their personal or social lives (17%), difficulty sleeping (15%), wanting to avoid the mess (13%E), avoiding optional work-related social functions (13%E), and wanting to stay away from the gym on the base, wing, or formation (7.9%E).Note  Overall, 37% of Primary Reservists who had been the victim of one or more sexual assaults reported that as a result, they experienced at least one of these impacts “always.” Note 

A similar proportion (40%) reported that they experienced at least one of these impacts in some instances. When it came to most impacts of sexual assault, male and female victims were equally as likely to report having experienced them “sometimes”. Where differences were observed, women were more likely to have sometimes experienced the impact; for instance, female victims were considerably more likely to have sometimes avoided optional work-related social functions (42%, versus 18%E among males).

Overall, under a quarter (22%) of Reservists who had been sexually assaulted reported that they never experienced any of these impacts as a result. This largely reflected the experiences of male victims: among male Reservists who had been sexually assaulted, 36% reported never having experiencing any of the impacts listed above.

The effects that specific types of sexual assaults had on victims varied. About half of those who had experienced sexual attacks said that as a result, they always wanted to avoid specific people at work (50%), and many reported negative emotional impacts (47%). Meanwhile, a large segment of victims of sexual activity to which they were not able to consent also reported always wanting to avoid specific people at work (54%), as well as experiencing negative impacts on personal or social life (40%E). In contrast, many victims of unwanted sexual touching reported that they never felt many of the impacts experienced by victims of other types of sexual assault: with respect to 8 of the 11 impacts included in the survey, the majority (between 53% and 80%, depending on the specific impact) reported never experiencing them.

Section 2: Sexualized and discriminatory behaviours

Sexualized behaviour in the workplace is distinct from sexual assault in many ways, namely that it is not necessarily violent and does not typically meet the threshold for criminality. However, a degree of interconnectedness may arguably exist between them. An environment in which inappropriate and discriminatory behaviours are common may send the message that sexualized behaviours—including, potentially, sexual assault—are normal and tolerated by those in authority (Sadler et al. 2018). To this end, the SSMCAF asked Reservists about a variety of other sexualized or discriminatory behaviours that they may have witnessed or experienced and which may contribute to a workplace culture conducive to higher rates of sexual assault. Primary Reserve members who personally experienced one or more of these behaviours reported a much higher prevalence of sexual assault in the 12 months preceding the survey than those who did not (11% versus 0.3%E).

The SSMCAF asked Primary Reservists about their experiences with ten distinct inappropriate sexualized behaviours which occurred in the context of the military workplace. These behaviours fall into three categories (see Text box 1): inappropriate verbal and non-verbal communication,Note  sexually explicit materials,Note  and unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations.Note  In addition to these sexualized behaviours, the SSMCAF asked about five discriminatory behaviours which can be classified into two groups: discrimination on the basis of sexNote  and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.Note 

Witnessing, experiencing inappropriate sexualized behaviours decreases in the Primary Reserve

Overall, witnessing (seeing or hearing) or experiencing sexualized behaviours in the workplace was common for Primary Reservists in 2018. Seven in ten (70%) members stated that they had witnessed or experienced this type of behaviour in the previous 12 months (Table 5). Among the three categories of sexualized behaviours (see Text box 1), inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication was considerably more common (69%) than either unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations (16%) or sexually explicit materials (11%).

Witnessing or experiencing sexualized behaviours in the workplace declined in the Primary Reserve between 2016 and 2018, decreasing by 11 percentage points from 81% to 70%. Declines were seen across all three categories of behaviours and with almost all individual behaviour types. The largest decrease was in the category of inappropriate verbal and non-verbal communication (down 12 percentage points). Inappropriate behaviours in this category frequently involved two or more perpetrators (see Table 10A); these behaviours suggest a group setting, which has more potential for the kind of bystander intervention encouraged by Operation HONOUR.

Notably, certain sexualized behaviours in the workplace did not decline in a statistically significant way between 2016 and 2018. The prevalence of unwelcome physical contact or getting too close—witnessed or experienced by 10% of Reservists in 2018—remained stable, as did repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations (4.7%) and offering workplace benefit for engaging in sexual activity or mistreatment for not doing so (1.5%).

While these behaviours were among those least often witnessed or experienced by Reservists, they differed from other behaviours in important ways. Unwelcome physical contact, pressure for relationships and linking workplace benefits to sexual activity may be considered more personal, ‘one-on-one’ behaviours, as opposed to ‘public’ behaviours that tend to take place in a group setting (see Table 10A). Public behaviours may be more responsive to bystander intervention, while those that take place between two individuals and behind closed doors may be less effected by the potential for monitoring and actions taken by others.

In addition, unwelcome physical contact or getting too close and repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relationships more closely resemble more serious misconduct, including sexual assault—the prevalence of which also remained stable in the Primary Reserve between 2016 and 2018. The line between unwelcome physical contact and unwanted sexual touching, for example, may be thin, and large-scale population studies have shown a correlation between repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relationships that meets the threshold for criminal harassment (stalking) and sexual violence (Conroy and Cotter 2017).

Female Reservists witness or experience inappropriate sexualized behaviours more than male counterparts

In 2018, female Reservists were more likely than their male colleagues to have witnessed or experienced sexualized behaviours in the workplace (76%, compared to 69%). With one exception, each of the ten individual sexualized behaviours measured by the SSMCAF were more commonly experienced by women than by men in the Primary Reserve (Chart 6). The exception was with indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts, which was witnessed by statistically equal proportions of male and female Reservists (6.1% of Reservists overall).

Chart 6 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who witnessed or experienced sexualized behaviours in the past 12 months, by gender and types of behaviour, 2018

Data table for Chart 6

Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6. The information is grouped by Reason for not reporting to someone in authority
(appearing as row headers), Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of behaviour
Women MenData table Note 
percent
Sexual jokes 70.6Note * 64.5
Inappropriate sexual comments 38.5Note * 28.8
Inappropriate discussion about sex life 38.3Note * 26.5
Unwanted sexual attention 26.1Note * 13.2
Displaying, showing, or sending sexually explicit messages or materials 12.3Note * 10.4
Unwelcome physical contact or getting too close 20.9Note * 8.3
Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts 7.1 6.0
Sexually suggestive photos or videos, without consentData table Note 1 3.5Note * 1.6
Repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations 12.9Note * 3.1
Offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activityData table Note 2 2.8Note * 1.2

The gap between male and female Reservists was particularly prominent when it came to certain behaviours: repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations, unwelcome physical contact or getting too close, offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activity or mistreatment for not doing so, and repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations. Female members were more than four times more likely than their male counterparts to have witnessed or experienced repeated pressure for relationships (13% versus 3.1%), more than twice as likely to have witnessed or experienced offers of workplace benefit for engaging in sexual activity (2.8% versus 1.2%) and more than twice as likely to have witnessed or experienced unwelcome physical contact (21% versus 8.3%). Incidentally, witnessing or experiencing these same sexualized behaviours remained stable between 2016 and 2018.

Decrease in witnessing or experiencing sexual behaviour larger among male Reservists

Notably, the overall decrease in witnessing or experiencing sexualized behaviour in the Primary Reserve between 2016 and 2018 was largely due to decreases among male members. Sexualized behaviours witnessed or experienced by male Reservists decreased by 13 percentage points, while among females, they declined by 6 percentage points. The result of this difference was the widening of the gap between males and females when it came to the proportions who witnessed or experienced sexualized behaviours: while proportions were very similar in 2016, in 2018 the difference between them had grown. The driver for this was a larger decline in male Reservists reporting inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication in general (down 13 percentage points among males and 7 among females), and sexual jokes more specifically (down 14 percentage points among males and 7 among females).

Witnessing, experiencing sexualized behaviours differs by age group, rank, class of service

Aside from the sex of Primary Reservists, the largest differences in the prevalence of witnessing or experiencing sexualized behaviours in the workplace were related to their age. Across all categories of sexualized behaviours, the largest proportions of members who had witnessed or experienced were found in the age groups 24 and younger, 25 to 29, and 30 to 34 (Table 6). Smaller proportions were found in the older age groups, with Reservists aged 50 and older least likely to witness or experience almost all categories of inappropriate sexualized behaviours.

The correlation between witnessing or experiencing sexualized behaviours and age was to some degree reflected across the ranks of the Primary Reserve. For instance, Junior Non-Commissioned Members consistently reported a higher prevalence of both exposure to sexually explicit materials and unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations than any of the higher ranks. However, when it came to witnessing or experiencing both sexually inappropriate communication and sexualized behaviours overall, the prevalence was similar among all ranks below Senior Officer.

Reservists who worked part-time only (Class A) reported a lower prevalence of witnessing or experiencing sexualized behaviours (62%) than their colleagues who worked exclusively full-time (Class B and/or C, 71%) or a combination of part-time and full-time (73%). This may have been related to the fact that members who work part-time only spend less time in the military workplace and interacting with other military members or employees. Meanwhile, the highest prevalence was reported by the mixed group, and may be related to their age profile: over two-thirds (68%) of mixed group Reservists were under 30 years of age, compared to 42% of part-time Reservists and 35% of those who worked full-time.

Three in ten Reservists witness or experience discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity

Discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity was witnessed or experienced by three in ten (29%) Primary Reservists in the 12 months preceding the 2018 SSMCAF (Table 5). Most often, this discrimination was based on sex (28%), and included suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act or a woman does not act like woman is supposed to act (20%), comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because they are a man or a woman (15%), and someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because they are a man or a woman (9.9%).

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity was witnessed or experienced by 6.7% of Primary Reservists, and included someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation (5.6%) and someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because they are (or assumed to be) trans (3.0%).Note 

Overall, the proportion of Reservists who witnessed or experienced discriminatory behaviours in the workplace declined by six percentage points (35% to 29%) between 2016 and 2018 (Chart 7). This was largely driven by fewer members reporting witnessing or experiencing suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act or a woman does not act like woman is supposed to act (down four percentage points) and comments that people are not good at a job or should be prevented from having a job because they are a man or a woman (down three percentage points).

The sole discriminatory behaviour that did not decrease over this time period was someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because they are (or are assumed to be) trans—witnessed or experienced by 2.8% of Primary Reservists in 2016 and 3.0% in 2018.

Chart 7 Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force members who witnessed or experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months and perceived it to be offensive, by gender and types of behaviour, 2018

Data table for Chart 7

Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7. The information is grouped by Type of behaviour
(appearing as row headers), 2016 and 2018, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of behaviour
2016Data table Note  2018
percent
Total discriminatory behaviours 34.6 28.9Note *
Suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act or a woman does not act like woman is supposed to actData table Note 1 24.3 20.1Note *
Comments that people are not good at a job or should be prevented from having a job because they are a man or a woman 17.8 14.5Note *
Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because they are a man or a woman 11.8 9.9Note *
Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation 8.1 5.6Note *
Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because they are, or are assumed to be, transData table Note 1 2.8 3.0

Female Reservists witness or experience discriminatory behaviours more often than males

Just over four in ten (43%) female Reservists witnessed or experienced discriminatory behaviours in the workplace, while this was the case for one quarter (26%) of their male counterparts (Table 5). This included both discrimination on the basis of sex (41% of women versus 25% of men) and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (11% versus 5.8%).

The largest gap between women and men was with respect to someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded on the basis of sex: female members were over three times more likely than their male counterparts to report having witnessed or experienced this type of behaviour (23%, versus 7.4% among males). Of note, the proportion of women who reported witnessing or experiencing someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because of their sex remained stable between 2016 and 2018.

Unlike with sexualized behaviours, Reservists who identified as Indigenous and those with a disability more often reported witnessing or experiencing discrimination on the basis sex, sexual orientation or gender identity than did non-Indigenous members and members without disabilities (Table 6). The prevalence of experiencing this kind of discrimination was relatively equal, however, among Reservists who did and did not identify as members of a visible minority group.

Three in ten full time Reservists witness, experience discrimination by sex, sexual orientation or gender identity

As with sexualized behaviours in the workplace, Reservists’ class of service had bearing on the incidence of discrimination that they witnessed or experienced. Three in ten Reservists who had spent any time working full time in the previous year—that is, those working in the Class B and/or C (30%) or mixed groups (32%)—reported a higher prevalence of discriminatory behaviours than Reservists in the part-time only (Class A) group (21%). Again, the fact that Reservists working part-time had less opportunity to interact with military members during the course of the previous 12 months may have had an impact on the prevalence of discriminatory behaviours that they witnessed or experienced.

Perceived offensiveness of some behaviours increases between 2016 and 2018

When it came to how offensive Reservists considered the sexualized or discriminatory behaviours that they witnessed or experienced in the workplace to be, opinions varied depending on the type of behaviour. Sexual jokes—the most prevalent of the behaviours—were also deemed to be the least offensive, with 12% of Reservists who witnessed or experienced them reporting that they were somewhat or very offended. In contrast, the least common inappropriate behaviour—offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activity or mistreatment for not doing so—was considered to be offensive by a large majority (75%) of Reservists who witnessed or experienced it (Chart 8).

Chart 8 Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force members who witnessed or experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months and perceived it to be offensive, by gender and types of behaviour, 2018

Data table for Chart 8

Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 8. The information is grouped by Type of behaviour (appearing as row headers), Witnessed or experienced behaviour and Believed behaviour was offensive, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of behaviour Witnessed or experienced behaviour Believed behaviour was offensiveData table Note 1
percent
Sexual jokes 65.5 12.4
Inappropriate sexual comments 30.3 38.9
Inappropriate discussion about sex life 28.4 28.9
Suggestions that a man or a woman does not act like a man or a woman is supposed to act 20.1 44.5
Unwanted sexual attention 15.2 48.7
Comments that people are not good at a job or should be prevented from having a job because of their sex 14.5 58.5
Displaying, showing, or sending sexually explicit messages or materials 10.7 38.3
Unwelcome physical contact or getting too close 10.3 51.3
Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sex 9.9 69.8
Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts 6.1 38.2
Discrimination based on sexual orientation 5.6 68.4
Repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations 4.7 67.4
Discrimination on the basis of gender identity 3.0 68.7
Sexually suggestive photos or videos, without consentData table Note 2 2.0 61.7
Offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activityData table Note 3 1.5 74.6

In general, discriminatory behaviours were considered to be more offensive than sexualized behaviours. About seven in ten Reservists who witnessed or experienced discriminatory behaviour on the basis of sex (70%), gender identity (69%) or sexual orientation (68%) were offended by the behaviour.

Female Reservists were more likely than their male counterparts to consider all inappropriate behaviours as offensive, regardless of the type of behaviour in question. For example, even though both women and men considered sexual jokes to be the least offensive of the behaviours, the proportion of women considering them to be offensive was almost twice that of men (21% versus 11%). Similarly, close to twice as many female Reservists who witnessed or experienced being shown sexually explicit materials reported being offended by the behaviour (61%, versus 34% among males).

The perceived offensiveness of certain behaviours increased among Reservists between 2016 and 2018. For instance, the offensiveness of offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activity or mistreatment for not doing so increased considerably, from 57% of Reservists to 75%. Unwanted sexual attention, sexually explicit materials, repeated pressure for dates or sexual relations and suggestions that someone does not act like a man or a woman is supposed to act were other behaviours that were considered offensive by more Reservists in 2018 than in 2016. This increase in how offensive Reservists view certain behaviours may be a reflection of an increased understanding of their harmful nature, and may suggest an emergent cultural shift with respect to sexual misconduct.

One in six Reservists personally experienced targeted sexual or discriminatory behaviours

In addition to having witnessed sexual or discriminatory behaviours in the workplace, Reservists were asked if they themselves personally experienced being targeted by any of these behaviours within the past 12 months. About one in six (17%)—approximately 4,560 individuals—indicated that they had been personally targeted by at least one sexual or discriminatory behaviour in the workplace or involving military members, DND civilians or contractors (Table 7).Note  This was considerably less than the proportion who had either witnessed or experienced such behaviours (71%).

About one in six (16%) Reservists experienced targeted sexualized behaviours, and these were most often inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication (including sexual jokes, unwanted sexual attention, inappropriate sexual comments, and inappropriate discussion of sex life), reported by 14% of members.

A smaller proportion of Reservists (6.0%) experienced targeted 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 woman is supposed to act, being mistreated because of their sex, and being told that they are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because of their sex—was experienced by 5.7% of Reservists. Fewer (0.9%) experienced discrimination based on gender identity, which included being mistreated because of their actual or assumed sexual orientation or because they are (or are assumed to be) trans—perhaps a reflection of the relatively small number of Reservists who identify as members of these groups (Text box 3).

Overall, experiences of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the workplace decreased among Primary Reservists between 2016 and 2018 (Table 8). Specifically, decreases were noted for inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication (18% to 14%), sexually explicit materials (3.3% to 2.4%), and discrimination on the basis of sex (6.8% to 5.7%). The prevalence of physical contact or suggested sexual relations and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, on the other hand, remained stable.

Start of text box 3

Text box 3
Experiences of sexual misconduct among transgender and gender diverse or LGBQ+ Primary Reserve members

The 2018 Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (SSMCAF) included questions on both sex at birth and gender, which align with recent changes to many Statistics Canada surveys. This allows for more inclusive reporting for Canadians of all genders. In all, approximately 60E members of the Primary Reserve, or 0.2%E, identified as transgender or gender diverse.Note Note  Because of the small size of this sample, statistical analysis of the experiences of sexual assault and targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours among this group was not possible. It should be noted that individuals who are not cisgenderNote  often face both internal and external barriers to disclosing their experiences or sexual misconduct (James et al. 2016), even in the context of an anonymous quantitative study such as the SSMCAF.

The 2018 SSMCAF also included a detailed question on sexual orientation that has been introduced in other Statistics Canada questionnaires, in order to provide more detailed categories for self-identification. Of all Primary Reservists, 6.0% were lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or sexual orientation n.e.c. (not elsewhere classified) (LGBQ).Note 

When the experiences of LGBQ Reservists are combined with those reported by members who identify as transgender or gender diverse, results from the SSMCAF show sexual assault was four times more prevalent among LGBTQ+ members (7.7% versus 1.9%)Note . In addition, LGBTQ+ Reservists were more likely to be targeted with every form of sexualized and discriminatory behaviours measured by the survey (Text box 3 table). In total, the proportion of LGBTQ+ members who experienced sexualized behaviour or discrimination was more than double that of cisgender heterosexual Reservists (38% versus 15%). This finding is consistent with other studies that have found high rates of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination among LGBTQ+ populations (Hoel et al. 2014; James et al. 2016).


Text box 3 table
Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted or experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months, by gender, sexual orientation and type of sexual misconduct, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who were sexually assaulted or experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months. The information is grouped by Type of sexual misconduct (appearing as row headers), LGBTQ+ Primary Reserve members, Cisgender,heterosexual Primary Reserve members , Transgender or gender diverse, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or queer n.i.e. and Total LGBTQ+, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of sexual misconduct LGBTQ+ Primary Reserve members Cisgender,Text box Note 3 heterosexual Primary Reserve membersText box Note 
Transgender (including gender diverse)Text box Note 1 Lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or sexual orientation n.e.c.Text box Note 2 Total LGBTQ+
percent
Sexual assault  
Sexual attack Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 0.4
Unwanted sexual touching Note F: too unreliable to be published 6.5Note * 6.4Note * 1.6
Sexual activity where unable to consent Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 0.3Note E: Use with caution
Total sexual assault Note F: too unreliable to be published 7.9Note * 7.7Note * 1.9
Personally experienced sexualized or discriminatory behavioursText box Note 4
Personally experienced sexual behaviours Note F: too unreliable to be published 34Note * 34Note * 14
Personally experienced inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communicationText box Note 5 Note F: too unreliable to be published 31Note * 31Note * 12
Personally experienced sexually explicit materialsText box Note 6 Note F: too unreliable to be published 5.9Note E: Use with caution Note * 6.0Note E: Use with caution Note * 2.1
Personally experienced physical contact or suggested sexual relationsText box Note 7 Note F: too unreliable to be published 16Note * 16Note * 5.5
Personally experienced discriminatory behavioursText box Note 8 Note F: too unreliable to be published 23Note * 22Note * 4.9
Personally experienced discrimination on the basis of sexText box Note 9 Note F: too unreliable to be published 19Note * 19Note * 4.9
Personally experienced discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identityText box Note 10 Note F: too unreliable to be published 11Note * 11Note * 0.3Note E: Use with caution
Total personally experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours Note F: too unreliable to be published 38Note * 38Note * 15

Notably, sexual assault decreased among these Reservists between 2016 and 2018, going from 12% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender members in 2016 to 7.7% of transgender, gender diverse, or LGBQ+ members in 2018. Of note, the proportion of Primary Reservists who identified as members of these groups increased between 2016 (4.0%) and 2018 (6.0%).

In contrast, there was no statistically significant difference in the proportion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender Reservists who had been targeted by sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in 2016 and the proportion of transgender, gender diverse, or LGBQ+ members who had been targeted in 2018.

End of text box 3

No significant decrease in most sexualized or discriminatory behaviours targeting female Reservists

Overall, there was no statistically significant decrease in personal experiences of targeted sexual or discriminatory behaviours among female Primary Reservists between 2016 and 2018, in contrast to male members and the Reserves as a whole (Table 8). The prevalence of women targeted by sexually explicit materials, unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations and discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity remained stable over this time. A decrease was noted in female Reservists’ experiences of targeted inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communications (31% to 26%).

In 2018, women serving in the Primary Reserve were close to three times more likely than their male counterparts to have experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours (34% versus 13%) (Table 7). Sexualized behaviours were the most common, and women were consistently over-represented: 26% reported inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication, compared to 11% of men. Unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations were reported by about one in five female members (19%) and 1 in 29 males (3.5%); 5.1% of women experienced sexually explicit materials, compared to 1.8% of men.

The gap between female and male Reservists was particularly wide when it came to discriminatory behaviours. Female members were over five times more likely than their male peers (18% versus 3.6%) to report having been the target of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. This was driven largely by discrimination based on sex—that is, suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act or a woman does not act like woman is supposed to act, being mistreated because of their sex, and being told that they are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because of their sex (18% of female members and 3.3% of males).

Targeted behaviour more common among younger Reservists, those in lower ranks

Targeted sexualized and discriminatory behaviours were generally more common among younger Reservists, and relatedly, this was also the case for Junior Non-Commissioned Members when compared to those in higher ranks (Table 7).

Indigenous Reservists were more likely to experience sexualized behaviours than were their non-Indigenous counterparts (20% versus 15%), and the same was true for discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity (9.8%E versus 5.8%).

Reservists with a disability were more at risk than their peers without a disability for discrimination based on sex or gender identity or sexual orientation (14%E versus 5.7%), but no statistically significant difference was found when it came to sexualized behaviours (18% and 16%). Reservists who were members of a visible minority were less likely to have experienced discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity than Reservists who were not members of this group (4.6% versus 6.2%), but the prevalence of targeted sexualized behaviour was similar for these two groups (15% and 16%).

When it came to class of service, Reservists who worked part-time only (Class A) reported the lowest prevalence of both targeted sexual (11%) and discriminatory (3.8%) behaviours, compared to full-time members (15% and 7.2%, respectively) and Reservists who worked the mixed full- and part-time group (18% and 6.6%, respectively). Again, this may have been linked to less time spent in the military workplace by part-time members.Note 

Negative impacts of targeted sexualized behaviours more common for female members

As was the case with sexual assault, female Primary Reservists were more likely than their male counterparts to report negative consequences as a result of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviour (Chart 9). Generally, women were about three times as likely to experience most kinds of negative consequences—including impacts like wanting to avoid specific people or places, losing trust, negative emotions and others. Research on the impacts of these kinds of behaviours on women working in male-dominated environments has produced similar findings (Leskinen et al. 2011).

The most common negative impact reported by Reservists who had experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours was wanting to avoid specific people at work: 73% of females and 29% of males who had experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours reported sometimes or always feeling this way. Over half (52%) of female members reported negative emotional impacts, such as feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, or anger, as a result of their experiences, as did 20% of men. The least common impact reported by females who had been targeted was missing work or working fewer hours (22%), which was also relatively uncommon among males who had experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours (8.2%).

Chart 9 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months, by gender and impacts of behaviours, 2018

Data table for Chart 9

Data table for Chart 9
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 9. The information is grouped by Type of emotional impact (appearing as row headers), Women and Men, calculated using percent who sometimes or always experienced these impacts units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Impacts of behaviours Women MenData table Note 
percent who sometimes or always experienced these impacts
Avoided or wanted to avoid specific people at work 72.8Note * 29.1
Negative emotional impacts (i.e., feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, or anger) 52.1Note * 19.5
Stayed or wanted to stay away from specific locations on the base, wing, or formation 47.5Note * 14.4
Negative impacts on personal or social life 45.9Note * 17.1
Loss of trust in chain of command 44.5Note * 19.8
Avoided optional work-related social functions 44.4Note * 18.2
Avoided or wanted to avoid the mess 40.9Note * 13.7
Loss of trust in unit 38.0Note * 16.1
Difficulty sleeping 27.5Note * 11.6
Stayed or wanted to stay away from the gym on the base, wing, or formation 25.6Note * 8.3
Missed work or worked fewer hours (i.e., left early or arrived later) 21.7Note * 8.2

Differences between the experiences of male and female Reservists emerged when the impacts of targeted sexualized behaviours and those of targeted discriminatory behaviours were considered separately. When it came to the impacts of targeted sexualized behaviours specifically, female members were significantly more likely to report that they always or sometimes experienced nearly allNote  of the negative impacts measured; males, meanwhile, were more likely to report that they never felt these impacts (Table 9).

In contrast, when it came to the consequences of targeted discriminatory behaviours, the proportions of male Reservists who reported the presence or absence of negative impacts were, for the most part, similar to those of female members. In other words, generally speaking, male Reservists felt more negative effects from experiences of targeted discriminatory behaviours than they did from targeted sexualized behaviours.

Male peers responsible for most types of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours

Some differences were noted when it came the characteristics of the persons responsible for many types of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours (Table 10A; Table 10B). Most Primary Reservists are male, and most of those identified as the perpetrators of virtually all types of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours were also male.Note  For example, eight in ten (80%) members reported that the person who perpetrated the repeated pressure for dates or sexual relationships that they experienced was always male, as did three-quarters (75%) of those who had personally experienced unwanted sexual attention. However, female members were responsible for some other types of targeted behaviours to a larger degree: for example, Reservists who had experienced targeted sexual jokes more often indicated that a combination of men and women were responsible (54%), and a large proportion of Reservists who had been targeted by inappropriate discussion of their sex life implicated both male and female perpetrators (44%).

With respect to most types of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, Primary Reservists indicated that those responsible were their peers. These included 80% of members who had experienced sexual jokes and 76% of those who had experienced inappropriate discussion of sex life. When it came to some discriminatory behaviours, the gap between those identifying supervisors or people in higher ranks as responsible and those identifying peers was considerably smaller. This included someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because they are a man or a woman (62% and 60%) and comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because they are a man or a woman (57% and 61%).

Targeted sexualized behaviours most often perpetrated by a lone individual remain stable

Some types of targeted sexualized behaviours experienced by Reservists were more often perpetrated by a lone person (including situations where the same one person was responsible for multiple incidents as well as multiple incidents that involved different lone individuals). Well over half of Reservists who experienced physical contact or getting too close (69%), repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relations (67%) and indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts (56%) reported that a lone person was responsible. This was not the case when it came to other types of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, where considerable proportions of Reservists reported that the behaviours had been committed by two or more people at least some of the time.Note 

Notably, those targeted sexualized behaviours that were more often perpetrated by a lone person were also those that did not see a statistically significant decrease between 2016 and 2018. Arguably, situations in which one person perpetrated a behaviour were more often situations where no larger group was present or involved, and thus had lesser potential for bystander intervention. The fact that behaviours most often committed by groups of people declined, while lone-perpetrator behaviours did not, suggests that cultural shifts associated with Operation HONOUR and other initiatives may be more effective in situations where a ‘bystander effect’ is possible.

Increases in reporting of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviour to those in authority

In 2018, Primary Reservists who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours were unlikely to have their experiences come to the attention of someone in authority: less than a third (30%) indicated that at least one behaviour that they experienced had been reported. Targeted sexually explicit materials and unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations often went unreported (60% and 59%, respectively) (Chart 10). Of note, many Reservists who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours did not know whether or not the issue had been brought to the attention of someone in authority, as some behaviours may have been reported by someone other than the person who was targeted.

Chart 10 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, by types of behaviour and whether behaviours came to the attention of someone in authority, 2018

Data table for Chart 10

Data table for Chart 10
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 10. The information is grouped by Types of behaviour (appearing as row headers), Came to the attention, Did not come to the attention and Don't know if it came to the attention, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Types of behaviour Came to the attention Did not come to the attention Don't know if it came to the attention
percent
Inappropriate verbal or
non-verbal
communication
25 44 31
Sexually explicit
materials
14Note E: Use with caution 60 26
Physical contact or
suggested sexual
relations
22 59 18
Discrimination on the
basis of sex
24 56 20
Discrimination on the
basis of sexual
orientation or gender
identity
33Note E: Use with caution 46 21Note E: Use with caution

The reporting of targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours among Primary Reservists increased between 2016 and 2018. In 2016, 25% of members who had experienced these behaviours indicated that someone in authority had been made aware—a proportion that rose to 30% in 2018. In particular, increases in reporting were noted when it came to discrimination on the basis of sex (moving from 15% in 2016 to 24% in 2018) and inappropriate verbal and non-verbal communication (19% to 25%) (Chart 11).

Chart 11 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, by types of behaviour and whether behaviours came to the attention of someone in authority, 2016 and 2018

Data table for Chart 11

Data table for Chart 11
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 11. The information is grouped by Types of behaviour (appearing as row headers), 2016 and 2018, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Types of behaviour 2016Data table Note  2018
percent
Inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication 19 25Note *
Sexually explicit materials 13Note E: Use with caution 14Note E: Use with caution
Physical contact or suggested sexual relations 20 22
Discrimination on the basis of sex 15 24Note *
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity Note F: too unreliable to be published 33Note E: Use with caution

Belief that behaviour was not serious enough most common reason for not reporting

In 2018, as in 2016, the most common reason for not reporting targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours to someone in authority was that Reservists did not consider the behaviour to be serious enough. In 2018, six in ten Reservists cited this reason, which was equally as common among male (63%) and female (61%) Reservists who did not report the behaviours that they experienced (Chart 12). Many also indicated that they did not report because they had resolved the issue on their own (50% of female members and 38% of males). Female Reservists were more likely to give several other reasons: for example, many who experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours stated that they did not report because they believed doing so would not make a difference (40%, versus 17% among males) or because they were afraid of negative consequences (33% versus 13%).

Chart 12 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months, by gender and reasons for not reporting to someone in authority, 2018

Data table for Chart 12

Data table for Chart 12
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 12. The information is grouped by Reasons for not reporting to someone in authority
(appearing as row headers), Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Reasons for not reporting to someone in authority
Women MenData table Note 
percent
Not serious enough 60.6 63.3
Resolved on my own 49.7Note * 38.4
Did not believe it would make a difference 39.7Note * 17.4
Behaviour stopped 41.2Note * 26.7
Afraid of negative consequences 32.7Note * 12.6
Concerns about formal complaint process 22.1Note * 7.4
Changed jobs 8.6Note * 2.4Note E: Use with caution
Person(s) responsible changed jobs 6.1Note * 2.5Note E: Use with caution
Unsure how 11.0Note * 4.2Note E: Use with caution
Someone in authority found out another way 9.8Note * 3.8Note E: Use with caution
Someone told me not to report 4.9Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published
Other 23.3Note * 29.9

Just under half of Reservists who witness sexual or discriminatory behaviours take action

When individuals are targeted with harassing or discriminatory behaviours, the role of bystander intervention has been identified as an important disruptive factor (Holland et al. 2016). To this end, the CAF has developed training for its members to improve the recognition of and reaction to sexualized and discriminatory behaviours in its workplace (Department of National Defence 2017). While a significant number of Primary Reservists reported having been personally targeted by sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the 12 months preceding the 2018 SSMCAF, even more indicated that they had witnessed these kinds of behaviours being directed at others. In fact, the majority of those who had been exposed to sexualized or discriminatory behaviours had witnessed the behaviour instead of having personally experienced it themselves. This was true for 76% of Reservists who had been exposed to sexualized behaviours, and 77% of those who had been exposed to discrimination. Of note, among female members, almost equal proportions of those exposed reported witnessing and being targeted by the behaviour.

Just under one-half of Reservists who had witnessed sexualized or discriminatory behaviours indicated that in at least one instance, they took some kind of action in response. This included 44% who had witnessed inappropriate sexual communicationsNote  , 42% who had witnessed other types of sexual misconductNote , and 47% who had witnessed discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity (Table 11). Female members were more likely than their male colleagues to take action when witnessing discrimination and sexual misconduct other than inappropriate communication, and about as likely to take action when witnessing inappropriate sexual communication.

Reservists choose to intervene rather than contact someone in authority

In general, many Reservists who decided to take action when witnessing sexualized or discriminatory behaviours chose to intervene in the situation themselves, as opposed to contacting someone in authority. For instance, eight in ten (84%) who took action after they witnessed sexual communication indicated that they had spoken to the person responsible. Meanwhile, 17% contacted someone in authority, and a smaller number contacted the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, a CAF support line or the Military Police (1%E for each agency). These proportions were similar when it came to actions taken when witnessing other forms of sexual misconduct or discrimination, though contacting someone in authority about other forms of sexual misconduct (specifically) was reported by 30% of those who witnessed it. Some types of bystander actions were more common among female members, including seeking advice from someone for direction on what to do.

Most Reservists who had witnessed sexualized or discriminatory behaviours indicated that in at least one instance, they chose not to take any action. This included over eight in ten (85%) members who had witnessed inappropriate communication, and seven in ten who had witnessed other kinds of sexual misconduct (73%) or discrimination (72%). In many cases, Reservists stated that they did not take action because none was needed and they did not think the situation was serious enough. While overall, female members were as likely as males to report having taken no action, they were less likely to cite a lack of seriousness as the reason for not doing so. Instead, female Reservists were more likely to say that they chose not to take action because they feared negative consequences for either themselves or the person being targeted, because those responsible were of a higher rank, because they did not know what to do, and for other reasons (Table 11).

Having a higher degree of responsibility for the actions of others—for example, having a higher rank—appeared to relate to whether Reservists took action when witnessing sexualized behaviours or discrimination in the workplace. For instance, about four in ten Junior Non-Commissioned Members indicated that they had taken action on at least one occasion when witnessing inappropriate communication (40%), other kinds of sexual misconduct (38%) and discriminatory behaviour (42%) (Table 12). Among Senior Officers, these proportions were close to seven in ten (66%, 75% and 70%, respectively). Of note, when it came to behaviours involving sexual misconduct other than communication, 41% of Junior Officers and 38% of Senior Officers contacted someone in authority about at least one instance that they witnessed.

Information on bystander action that was taken or not taken by Reservists was collected for the first time in 2018. Therefore, no analysis of changes over time—for example, since the implementation of Operation HONOUR and related polices—is possible. Future research may provide further information on this important facet of the issue, as changes in bystander behaviour may serve as a reflection of deeper cultural shifts.

Section 3: Knowledge and perceptions of policies and responses to sexual misconduct

The CAF has in place several policies and programs aimed at addressing the issue of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and the SSMCAF asked Primary Reservists about the degree to which they were aware of these initiatives. In 2018, nine out of ten (91%) Reservists reported that they were very aware of Operation HONOURa significant increase from 2016, when this level of awareness was reported by 75% of members (Chart 13). Awareness of DAOD 5012-0 Harassment Prevention and Resolution also grew during that time, increasing from 43% of Reservists being very aware in 2016 to 49% in 2018.

Awareness of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) also increased significantly, from 30% of Reservists reporting being very aware in 2016 to 40% in 2018. This increase was noted among both male and female members. Interestingly, in 2016, being very aware of the SMRC was equal among men and women in the Reserves (30% respectively); in 2018, however, a difference was found. A larger proportion of men (40%) than women (37%) reported being very aware of the SMRC in 2018, reflecting particularly strong growth in awareness of the SMRC among male members.

Chart 13 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members who are very aware of Canadian Armed Forces directives, policies and programs related to sexual misconduct, 2016 and 2018

Data table for Chart 13

Data table for Chart 13
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 13. The information is grouped by Directive, policy, or program (appearing as row headers), 2018 and 2016, calculated using percent who are very aware units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Directive, policy, or program 2018 2016Data table Note 
percent who are very aware
Operation HONOUR 91Note * 75
DAOD 5012-0 Harassment Prevention and Resolution 49Note * 43
Sexual Misconduct Response Centre 40Note * 30

As the proportion of Reservists who were very aware of the SMRC grew between 2016 and 2018, decreases were noted in the proportions of those who reported being somewhat aware (47% to 43%) and not aware at all (22% to 17%). This primarily reflected changes among male members, where declines were seen in the proportions who were somewhat aware (48% to 43%) and in who were not aware at all (22% to 17%). Among female members, the proportion who reported not being aware of the SMRC decreased from 24% in 2016 to 18% in 2018; no change was seen, however, in the proportion who were somewhat aware (46% both years).

Most Reservists have positive view of CAF responses to sexual misconduct

In general, Primary Reservists held favourable opinions about how the CAF has responded to sexual misconduct in its workplace (Table 13). For instance, eight in ten members strongly agreed with the statements “complaints about inappropriate sexual behaviour are (or would be) taken seriously in my current unit” (83%) and “inappropriate sexual behaviour is not tolerated in my current unit” (83%). Seven in ten members strongly agreed that “CAF currently works hard to create a workplace that prevents inappropriate sexual behaviour” (73%), that “I trust my chain of command to effectively deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour” (70%), and that “I have received adequate training on preventing and addressing inappropriate sexual behaviour” (68%). Relatively small proportions of Reservists (ranging from 2% to 5%) indicated that they somewhat or strongly disagreed with each of these statements.

Reservists’ perceptions of the CAF’s responses to sexual misconduct improved between 2016 and 2018; in particular, the proportion of members who strongly agreed with the statement “CAF currently works hard to create a workplace that prevents inappropriate sexual behaviour” increased by 14 percentage points.

Research that aims to measure people’s values and beliefs is sometimes critiqued on the basis of social desirability bias. This concept suggests that when asked about values that they know are a part of the broader cultural context in which they find themselves, individuals may tailor their answers so that their beliefs appear to be consistent with those larger ideals. As Fisher and Katz (2000) argue, however, any impact of social desirability bias that may be present actually proves the point: if cultural messaging is strong enough to impact how an individual shapes their responses to questions, it is evidence of the strength and pervasiveness of those messages within the social group in question. When it comes to Primary Reservists’ opinions of CAF responses to sexual misconduct, this line of reasoning further supports the observation that Reservists have a clear understanding of the effort and attention the CAF has dedicated to the issue.

Perceptions less favorable among women, members who experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours

While Reservists’ perceptions were generally favourable, notable differences in opinion persisted. Female members were consistently less likely than their male counterparts to strongly agree with the statements detailed above. Additionally, unlike male members, no improvement in female members’ perceptions was seen when it came to the statement “complaints about inappropriate sexual behaviour are (or would be) taken seriously in my current unit.”

Reservists who had been sexually assaulted or who had experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the past 12 months also tended to hold negative perceptions of how the CAF has addressed sexual misconduct. For example, 26% of women who had been sexually assaulted and 17% of women who had experienced targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours indicated that they somewhat or strongly disagreed with the statement “I trust my chain of command to effectively deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour.” This was also the case for 24%E of male sexual assault victims and 8.6% of males who had experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours.

Similarly, in most cases perceptions of CAF responses to sexual misconduct among those who had been sexually assaulted or who had experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours did not improve between 2016 and 2018. There were some exceptions to this: for example, both male and female Reservists who had been targeted with sexualized or discriminatory behaviours were considerably more likely to strongly agree with the statement “CAF currently works hard to create a workplace that prevents inappropriate sexual behaviour” in 2018 than they were in 2016. Male Reservists who had been sexually assaulted were more likely to strongly agree with the statement “inappropriate sexual behaviour is not tolerated in my current unit” in 2018 than in 2016, and the same was true for men who had experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours.Note 

Awareness of sexual misconduct increasing among Primary Reservists

Although Reservists largely held positive perceptions of the CAF’s response to sexual misconduct in 2018, almost half (47%) either somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement “inappropriate sexual behaviour is a problem in the CAF.” Female members were more likely to feel this way, with 25% strongly agreeing with the statement (compared to 19% of males) and 31% somewhat agreeing (versus 26%) (Table 13).

Notably, the overall proportion of Primary Reservists who strongly agreed with the statement “inappropriate sexual behaviour is a problem in the CAF” increased between 2016 and 2018, going from 17% to 20%. This is despite decreases in the prevalence of sexualized and discriminatory behaviours witnessed or experienced by Reservists over that time period. A possible interpretation of this may relate to increased awareness of the seriousness of sexual misconduct itself as a problem. In other words, Reservists were more likely to see sexual misconduct as problematic in 2018 than they were in the past. Women—who were overrepresented as both targets of sexualized and discriminatory behaviours and as victims of sexual assault, and were thus more likely to have first-hand knowledge of the issue—reported no increase in the degree to which they agreed with the statement. Instead, the overall increase in the proportion of Reservists who strongly agreed that “inappropriate sexual behaviour is a problem in the CAF” reflected an increase seen among male members, suggesting that the change may be related to an increased awareness of the issue.

Similarly, the increase in the proportion of Reservists who strongly agreed that “inappropriate sexual behaviour is a problem in the CAF” was based largely on the experiences of those who had not been either victims of sexual assault or targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours—again suggesting that the increase reflects a broader change in members’ awareness of the issue. Among those who had been sexually assaulted or who had experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, almost no changes were seen when it came to the perception that this type of a behaviour is a problem in the CAF. The only exceptions were among males who had experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours, among whom a greater proportion strongly agreed with the statement in 2018.

Most Reservists believe Operation HONOUR has been effective

In August 2015, the CAF launched Operation HONOURa program designed to end inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace and provide support to CAF members previously affected (Canadian Armed Forces 2016). In 2018, Primary Reservists were asked about whether they believe Operation HONOUR has been effective in reducing inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace. The majority of members responded positively, indicating that the program was either very or extremely effective (45%) or moderately effective (30%) (Chart 14). Just over one in seven (13%) stated that they believe Operation HONOUR has been slightly effective or not effective at all.

Reservists were generally optimistic about the effectiveness of the program in the future, more so than they were in 2016. In 2018, over half (51%) of members stated that they believed Operation HONOUR would be very or extremely effective in the future, significantly more than the proportion who held that belief in 2016 (29%). Similarly, the proportion that thought the program would be slightly or not at all effective in the future dropped from 25% in 2016 to 13% in 2018.

Chart 14 Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve members' perception of current and future effectiveness of Operation HONOUR, 2016 and 2018

Data table for Chart 14

Data table for Chart 14
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 14 2016: Operation HONOUR will be..., 2018: Operation HONOUR will be... and 2018: Operation HONOUR has been..., calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
2016: Operation HONOUR will be... 2018: Operation HONOUR will be... 2018: Operation HONOUR has been...
percent
Very or extremely effective 29 51Note * 45
Moderately effective 36 28Note * 30
Slightly or not at all effective 25 13Note * 13

In 2018, female Reservists were less likely than their male counterparts to consider Operation HONOUR to have been very or extremely effective (38% versus 47%), and were instead more likely to say the program has been moderately effective (37% versus 29%). Equal proportions of male and female Reservists indicated that they considered Operation HONOUR to have been slightly or not at all effective.

Additionally, having been a victim of sexual assault in the past 12 months had a significant impact on Reservists’ perceptions of Operation HONOUR. Victims were considerably less likely than those who had not been sexually assaulted to see the program as very or extremely effective (18% versus 46%), and were more likely to say that they considered the program to be slightly effective or not effective at all (31% versus 13%).

Section 4: Summary, methodology and data sources

Summary

The Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (SSMCAF) was conducted for the second time in 2018, in order to gauge members’ experiences of sexual assault and sexualized and discriminatory behaviours in the military workplace or involving military members or Department of National Defence civilians or contractors. Since the first cycle of the survey, the Canadian Armed Forces has developed and implemented a training and awareness program geared at educating its members about the harmful effects of sexual misconduct and discrimination, how to recognize them when they occur, and what actions to take when they do—alongside new support services, policies and investigative capacity. During this same period, public discussions about sexual misconduct have taken place in the wider societal context. Both of these developments may have impacted the attitudes and behaviours of Primary Reservists.

A reduction in the prevalence of sexual assault did not take place between 2016 and 2018. Findings from 2018 showed that 2.2% of Primary Reservists had experienced at least one sexual assault in the context of the military workplace in the previous 12 months, translating into approximately 600 individuals. Unwanted sexual touching was the most common type of sexual assault, followed by sexual attacks and sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent.

As in the wider population, women in the Primary Reserve were at greater risk of sexual assault than men. Other important differences between women’s and men’s experiences of sexual assault in the Reserves also emerged. For instance, women were most likely to be sexually assaulted by a supervisor or someone of a higher rank; for male victims, sexual assaults were usually perpetrated by a peer. Female Reservists were more likely to report a sexual assault to someone in authority; however, among Reservists that did not do so, women were more likely to state that fear of negative consequences had prevented them from reporting. This fear increased among female victims between 2016 and 2018.

Overall, witnessing or experiencing inappropriate sexualized or discriminatory behaviours declined between 2016 and 2018. While a large majority (71%) of Reservists witnessed or experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the workplace in 2018, this proportion was significantly smaller than what was reported in 2016 (82%).

However, not all individual behaviours declined in the Primary Reserve between 2016 and 2018, and the differences between them are telling. Witnessing or experiencing unwelcome physical contact, repeated pressure for relationships and offering workplace benefit for sexual activity did not decrease; some of these were also the behaviours most likely to happen in one-on-one situations. Behaviours that take place between individuals and behind closed doors may be less amenable to influence through training and related programs, reflecting a weaker ‘bystander effect’. Further, these particular behaviours may more closely resemble more serious misconduct, including sexual assault—the prevalence of which also remained stable in the Primary Reserve between 2016 and 2018.

This marked difference in how various behaviours have changed over time suggests that initiatives such as Operation HONOUR may be more effective in combating some forms of behaviour in the short term, while other behaviours may take longer to change. It may also be reflective of the larger social context in which the CAF operates: in Canadian society, too, sexual assault has remained stable over time.

Most Reservists perceive Operation HONOUR to be effective, and most are optimistic about its continued efficacy in the future. Evidence of this effectiveness may arguably be found in the increased willingness of Primary Reservists to report sexual assault and sexualized or discriminatory behaviours to those in authority. Also, Primary Reservists reported an increased awareness of the consequences of sexualized or discriminatory behaviours and the forms that it takes in the workplace; this, too, may be a signal that training and education efforts have had some impact. This latter point may be bolstered by the fact that the largest increases in this awareness came from males and those who had not been sexually assaulted or targeted by inappropriate behaviours in the previous 12 months, and that the perceived offensiveness of some behaviours has increased.

Together with the overall decrease in sexualized and discriminatory behaviours reported by Reservists, the evidence arguably points to cultural change taking place in the Primary Reserve. However, the persistence of sexual assault and the continued over-representation of women and those identifying as LGBQ+ as targets, as well as dissatisfaction with authorities’ response when assaults are reported, signal the need for ongoing attention to CAF’s workplace culture.


Summary table
Summary of changes in the experiences of Primary Reserve members, 2016 to 2018 
Table summary
This table displays the results of Summary of changes in the experiences of Primary Reserve members 2018 prevalence (%) and change from 2016 (appearing as column headers).
2018 prevalence (%) change from 2016
Sexualized and discriminatory behaviours (personally experienced)
Sexual jokes 11.2
Inappropriate discussion about sex life 5.8
Unwelcome physical contact or getting too close 4.3 =
Inappropriate sexual comments 4.2
Suggestions that a man doesn't act like a man is supposed to act or a woman doesn't act like woman is supposed to act 4.0
Unwanted sexual attention 3.5
Someone being insulted/mistreated/ignored/excluded because of their sex 2.8 =
Displaying, showing, or sending sexually explicit messages or materials 2.3
Comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because of their sex 2.3 =
Repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relationships 2.0 =
Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts 1.6 =
Someone being insulted/mistreated/ignored/excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation 0.9 =
Offering workplace benefit for engaging in sexual activity or being mistreated for not engaging in sexual activity 0.4Note E: Use with caution =
Taking and/or posting inappropriate or sexually suggestive photos or videos of any CAF members, without consent 0.3Note E: Use with caution =
Someone being insulted/mistreated/ignored/excluded because they are (or assumed to be) trans 0.2Note E: Use with caution =
Sexual assault
Unwanted sexual touching 1.9 =
Sexual attacks 0.5 =
Sexual activity where unable to consent 0.4 =

Methodology and data sources

This report is based on data from the 2018 Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (SSMCAF). The target population was all active members of the Regular Force and Primary Reserve. The SSMCAF was administered only to current CAF members. Therefore, those who may have been on administrative, medical, or parental leave or those who may have chosen to leave the CAF as a result of victimization or for any other reason were not included in the survey. The questionnaire was sent electronically to all members of the target population; therefore, no sampling was done. Data collection took place between September and November, 2018. Responses were obtained using an electronic questionnaire.

Data collected by the 2016 SSMCAF are also included for the purposes of trend analysis. The survey was modified between the 2016 and 2018 cycles, to include information on actions taken by those members who may have been bystanders when others were targeted by misconduct. The second cycle also included additional questions about members’ perceptions of the CAF’s responses to sexual misconduct in its workplace. Some changes to specific questions were also made; these are noted where relevant.

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 Class A, B and C Reservists vary in terms of the hours they spend doing military service, response rates may have varied between classes of service.

For more information and copies of the questionnaire, refer to the Statistics Canada survey information page:
Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces

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