Tuesday 21 May 2019

Army knew of sex abuse for years

When a woman soldier anonymously informed a Government-ordered inquiry into harassment and bullying in the Army that she had been raped by another soldier but was too afraid to report the incident it confirmed academic research carried out years before by a serving member of the Defence Forces but which had been buried by the military authorities.

Two other women soldiers and a male colleague also told an inquiry team they had been the subject of attempted rape.

That inquiry of the External Advisory Committee on the Defence Forces was set up by the former Defence Minister Michael Smith, after media reports were published about an earlier survey on the experiences of women in the military conducted by then Army captain, Dr Tom Clonan for a PhD at Dublin City University.

The Government report found that 30 per cent of women soldiers, who make up only 4 per cent of the Defence Forces, had experienced sexual harassment and that victims of harassment and bullying felt they could not achieve remedy through the Defence Forces complaints system.

For Dr Clonan, who by then had left the army and become a full-time academic, the findings of the Government ordered report were a vindication of his original research, but he now reveals that he got no thanks for his efforts from many of his former colleagues in the Irish Army and was ostracised and shunned by some.

Now, in a new series of Whistleblowers on RTE Radio One, Dr Clonan speaks candidly of his experiences.

"Friends stopped taking my calls. Officers abused me in the streets in front of my family. I was threatened with 'every dirty trick in the book'," he says.

Tom Clonan's story began when he was doing a doctoral thesis on the experience of women in the Defence Forces. During his interviews with women, issues around bullying, harassment of a physical nature, and of an explicitly sexual nature began to crop up again and again.

"I thought I had stumbled across an anomalous series of interviewees who had had these extraordinary experiences but as time went on it emerged that out of 60 women I interviewed, 59 had experienced some sort of bullying or harassment," he recalls.

"The full spectrum of allegations were there, remarks of an inappropriate nature, remarks of a sexual nature, touching, sexual assault and all the way up to an allegation of attempted rape within the organisation, he said.

Dr Clonan remembers that many of the women were incandescent with anger about what had happened to them but what was most disappointing was that, in the vast majority of cases of allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment, these female soldiers had made official complaints but felt that they were not properly dealt with.

"They felt that complaints were not taken seriously and that they were later subjected to isolation and hostile scrutiny," Dr Clonan recalls.

To his dismay when it came time to present his findings to the new chief of staff he was told by his superiors to wait for a few months to allow the new man to "settle in". Clonan left, as arranged, to pursue an academic career.

"I was confident that it would not compromise my career in any way. I felt that this would be greeted in an entirely positive manner. After all, this was the Defence Forces, it was their own study."

Toward the end of January 2001 Dr Clonan says he received a phone call from an officer who said that they wanted to see him at military headquarters to discuss a very important matter.

"I was shocked when he said 'not the f****** women thing! You are not still going on about that'."

Later, details of Dr Clonan's research were discovered in an academic library in Dublin City University by journalist and former Army man Declan Power. When these were published an official inquiry was held into the allegations.

Though he was vindicated, Dr Clonan was accosted in the streets and sent to Coventry by many of his former colleagues.

Dr Clonan's story is told in Whistleblowers today at 10.30 am on Radio One. Other programmes feature David Kaczynski, brother of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Colin Wallace, the former British army Lieutenant Colonel, journalist and swimmer Francis "Chalkie" White and Frank Serpico, whose life in the NYPD led to a movie starring Al Pacino in the title role of Serpico.

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