Ben Wallace has defended the military justice system’s ability to tackle rape and sex offences as figures revealed a dramatic increase in the number of cases being investigated.
Some 333 Sexual Offences Act investigations were launched by the service police in 2022, up 108 from the previous year, an almost 50% increase.
There were also nine investigations into non-recent cases.
In 2022 the Service Prosecuting Authority received 232 case referrals from the police.
Speaking at the Sandhurst military academy, Defence Secretary Mr Wallace told the PA news agency the increase in cases was due to victims – who are overwhelmingly female – being prepared to come forward.
He said: “Ultimately I think it’s a reflection of the work we’ve been doing in allowing people to come forward, encouraging them to come forward to talk about their experiences.
“And it’s also, I think, a reflection on the fact we’ve invested in the service justice system to make sure there are better outcomes.”
Mr Wallace said a greater proportion of victims who came forward in the military system received justice in the form of a conviction than in the civilian criminal justice system.
“I think it’s both about an atmosphere of trying to encourage people to talk about it, come forward, and an atmosphere where our investment in the criminal justice system is getting better.”
He said it was “not true” to suggest women could not safely have a career in the armed forces, adding: “There are thousands of women in the armed forces and have a fantastic time across all three services and are making a real difference.”
The Defence Secretary was speaking at Sandhurst, which has faced accusations of a “toxic” culture and saw the death of 21-year-old Olivia Perks in 2019, who was found dead at the academy following allegations she had been the victim of sexual misconduct.
He said the academy’s new commandant Major General Zac Stenning was making a “real difference”.
“I think he’s doing some extremely good work around not only the culture, but also dealing with people when there’s been an allegation, either of inappropriate behaviour or indeed of a criminal nature,” Mr Wallace said.
But he said that ultimately the change would have to come from the male personnel who make up the bulk of the armed forces.
“The big change will be when the peer group point out to themselves that this behaviour is inappropriate,” former Army officer Mr Wallace said.
“We have to be realistic here, we have to recognise that people are on a journey, it’s a very different Sandhurst from when I was here and we have to realise that’s not going to come easy for many people.”
During his visit to Sandhurst Mr Wallace watched officer cadets tackle an assault course but also saw them conduct role-playing exercises aimed at dealing with problematic behaviour.