In a recent case, an RAF airwoman was sexually harassed by a colleague, following which, she left the air force. Despite the military court clearing his name, an Employment Tribunal found him guilty of the charge and sided with the airwoman. Now, the retired Corporal is due for a payout by the Ministry of Defence.
What Exactly Happened
The incident occurred in Crete where the airwoman, Ms H, was stationed with her colleagues. While in service, she was considered to be an outstanding servicewoman and a noteworthy leader to a team of 9 senior colleagues.
Ms H was also quite close to her team to the point where they all knew that she was a gay woman and married to a long-term partner. In fact, she was always open about her sexuality which meant everyone involved in the incidents of the case was aware as well.
On a night out in Crete, the airwoman and other members of her squadron were drinking and having a fun time. They visited multiple bars and, according to the Tribunal, seemed to have a fair share of drinks. As the night progressed, some of the team members decided to head back because of a curfew while Ms H, and a few other male colleagues, decided to stay out.
The group then proceeded to book accommodation in a nearby hotel. They stayed in a two-bedroom apartment, where Ms H shared the room with three other colleagues. At some point in the night, Ms H was feeling sick and Sergeant F (then Corporal) came in to check in on her. After checking on her a few times, he took her to his bedroom. While Ms H decided to sleep on the floor, F asked her to sleep on the bed since it is more comfortable.
At this point, Ms H did not suspect anything as F was a good and trusted friend. Later in the night, she woke up realising she was being penetrated by his fingers. She told the Tribunal that this was not a mistake as F stopped when another person (who was on the same bed) moved. Eventually, she got up and moved to the sofa.
Ms H avoided F all morning and on returning to base, reported the incident to Sergeant Storer who was her senior. Although the matter was then reported to the RAF police in Crete, Ms H told the Tribunal that she was not encouraged to preserve evidence, seek medical care or even report to the police. That meeting did not last for long and the investigators, according to Ms H, seemed inexperienced.
Once back in the UK, Ms H faced multiple issues and was even asked why she wanted time off since “it happened in a different country” and the accused wasn’t there. At the investigation in the UK, Sqn Ldr Hall told Ms H about how her “friend” was falsely accused of assault and constantly relied on a male comparator. Eventually, F was court-martialed but acquitted of sexual assault charges. A few months after the court-martial, Ms H presented her case to the Employment Tribunal.
What The Employment Tribunal Said
The Employment Tribunal concluded that the fact about her being assaulted was undisputed. They also stated that there was no case of discrimination as the MOD would have dealt with the matter in a similar fashion had a man brought the case.
In terms of Sqn Ldr Hall’s comments, the Tribunal found that there were indeed insensitive but not less favourable to her as a woman. And despite it happening in a different country and F being court-martialed, the Tribunal found that since the incident occurred while she was employed, her claim is valid.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal can be found here