Women, aboriginals and visible minorities in the Canadian Forces say they experience higher rates of sexual and personal harassment than their peers in the military, according to a survey that found many don't bother reporting it for fear of being labelled troublemakers.
The Canadian Forces Workplace Harassment Survey found that over a 12-month period, 16 per cent of Canadian Forces members who took part in the research experienced personal harassment, which could include offensive comments relating to race, religion, sex or physical traits.
Of that, roughly one third of so-called designated group members — aboriginals, visible minorities or people with disabilities — said they suffered some form of personal harassment.
"There is still harassment out there so our work is not done," Lt.-Col. Monique Goyette, an expert on the military's harassment policy, said in an interview from Ottawa.
"One case is one too many if you're the person that has that complaint or was being harassed. But it's not the end of the world."
The survey, a draft of which was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, included 2,245 respondents. The majority of those were men and in the army, with most having 26-plus years of service in the Forces.
It included questions on four types of harassment: personal, sexual, abuse of authority and hazing. The lengthy questionnaire was sent out in May 2012 to 9,100 randomly selected regular force personnel in Canada. Much of the harassment came from higher-ranking officers, the survey found.
And the majority indicated that they did not want to file an official complaint because they feared "it would make their work situation unpleasant, that it would be held against them or that they would be blamed or that they would be labelled a troublemaker."
Goyette said it's up to the individual to report the harassment.
"If someone really feels harassed in a horrendous situation, there are means to address that," she said.
The findings suggested that just under two per cent of Forces members experienced some form of sexual harassment in the year covered in the survey. In breaking it down by gender, nine per cent of women — or 56 respondents — said they were sexually harassed in that period.
The nature of the sexual harassment included whistles, sexual teasing and jokes, the survey said.
Of those who said they experienced sexual harassment, almost 27 per cent said the comments or behaviour "created an offensive, hostile or intimidating work environment."
And six per cent said they were sexually assaulted or that there was an attempted assault.
The majority said they dealt with it by avoiding the person or ignoring the behaviour. Only seven per cent took formal action, saying they feared it would negatively affect the workplace, be held against them or label them as a troublemaker.
The findings suggest that while the majority did not seek transfers or an exit from the Forces because of the harassment, about 70 per cent said it reduced their motivation at work, upset them and caused them to feel negatively about the Forces.
Even though the survey indicated that the vast majority of members said they were aware of the Forces' harassment policy, inappropriate behaviour still persists.
Kelly Farley of the Director General Military Personnel Research and the survey's chief scientist, said the findings were not surprising and pointed to improvements compared to previous surveys that indicated higher rates of harassment.
"With everything we know about the military culture ...numbers like this are to be expected," he said. "Overall, I'm heartened a little bit by the data that we're seeing now. There is the appearance of a trend and it's in the right direction."
Overall, the survey suggests that the majority of respondents think personal harassment is a minor or moderate problem in the Forces, while 56 per cent say sexual harassment is a minor problem. About 75 per cent of the participants said abuse of authority was either a minor or moderate problem.
Goyette said similar surveys are being done on recruits and the reserve force.