Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces

Access the report: Statistics Canada

In the spring of 2016, Statistics Canada conducted a voluntary survey on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces. The survey, part of the Operation HONOUR initiative, focused on sexual assault, sexualized and discriminatory behaviours, and knowledge and perceptions of policies and responses to sexual misconduct in the armed forces.

The Canadian Armed Forces contracted Statistics Canada to conduct the survey as the agency has the independence, expertise and the infrastructure to design, conduct, analyze and disseminate large surveys. The agency also has vast experience in conducting surveys on sensitive topics, including sexual assault.

Under the authority of the Statistics Act, all information provided by respondents was kept confidential and as part of the survey agreement, neither the Canadian Armed Forces nor the Department of National Defence have been, or ever will be, granted access to individual survey responses.

Survey design

The survey was designed to collect information regarding the prevalence of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the military, to understand CAF members’ awareness of policy, programs and associated support mechanisms and to determine reporting trends.

Members of the Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct, Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, and Statistics Canada worked collaboratively to develop the survey content, and the release strategy. In the development of the survey, 45 CAF members volunteered to pretest items through one-on-one interviews. These interviews were conducted by Statistics Canada and took place in Halifax, Valcartier, Ottawa, and Trenton. This group of volunteers included: 11 males, and 34 females who were a mix of junior and senior Non-commissioned members and officers. On completion of the development and prior to administration, the application was pretested on 10 CAF member volunteers. Survey content on sexual assault was based on the items used by Statistics Canada in the General Social Survey.

Government of Canada directives and Canadian Armed Forces policy dictate surveys of this sort should be voluntary. Given the sensitive nature of the survey topic, experience indicates that a voluntary survey encourages more thoughtful responses, which increases the accuracy of the survey results.

Survey collection

The survey was conducted using an online questionnaire distributed to 56,000 members of the Regular Force and 27,000 members of the Primary Reserve. All participants were provided a unique access code via email and by letter mailed to their primary residence. The secure access code enabled access to the secure Statistics Canada server to complete the survey.

The initial data collection period was scheduled between April 11 and May 31, 2016. During this period, the CAF was made aware of some challenges that were limiting CAF member participation due to ongoing operational requirements, deployments, a major exercise for the Canadian Army and the end of the training year for Primary Reservists. In order to maximize and facilitate participation, the survey collection period was extended until June 24, 2016.

Statistics Canada weighted respondents who completed questionnaires so that responses would represent the entire active Regular Force and Primary Reserve components of the CAF. After weighting, the submitted responses represented approximately 56,200 Regular Force members and roughly 26,000 Primary Reservists.

Survey Exclusions

The Canadian Armed Forces comprises some very diverse groups that make it difficult to develop a generic survey that would cover all the needs and various ways of asking questions to garner the information that would meet the objectives of the survey. The initial iteration of the survey was sent to Regular Force and Primary Reserve members, providing data from the largest and most representative sample of Canadian Armed Forces membership.

The exceedingly diverse range of membership and the fundamental differences in some of the organization’s sub-components precluded the use of a single common survey for all members. Consequently and exceptionally, a very small number of groups representing a minor percentage of the military were excluded from the initial survey. These groupings included the Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS), Royal Military College, Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School, Canadian Rangers and Regular Force members on Initial Occupational Training.

For those members posted to a Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), there was need to consider that many would have not been on duty in a CAF workplace for six months or longer due to extended sick leave, and would therefore not be in a position to respond effectively to a majority of questions, as the survey focuses on the current workplace over the past 12 months. Although not all members who are posted to the JPSU are on extended sick leave, our ability to distinguish those who were on leave or not, the length and type of leave, and concerns over the right to individual privacy, led to the decision to exclude those posted to the JPSU for this initial survey.

The experiences of former members of the CAF, although important, were beyond the scope of this survey. The objective of the survey was to determine a baseline of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces over the 12 month time period prior to the survey administration (April 2015 – April 2016). Retired members are not in a position to be able to respond to these questions, as they were not in the work force during this time. Members who had not commenced retirement leave at the time the list of participants was compiled were included. The survey did not contain open-ended questions, so was not an avenue for former members to relate their experiences.

Rather than expand the survey to include tailored questions for all distinguished groups, the decision was made to have a generic survey for the majority of CAF members and to conduct similar subsequent surveys with the excluded groups. By so doing, the CAF will be able to better identify problem areas and target prevention and educational strategies. While the CAF will not be able to survey all individuals, the information obtained and analyzed during this survey and the follow-on special surveys will help us to determine what further research is required.

Future data collection

Following this initial effort, the CAF plans to repeat the Statistics Canada survey on a regular basis. The next one is forecast to be conducted in 2018 and will be repeated on a cycle of 24 – 36 months thereafter.

Those groups who were excluded from the initial Statistics Canada survey will receive a survey that has been designed to address their unique employment, experience and service circumstances. The Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS), Royal Military College, Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School, Canadian Rangers and Regular Force members on Initial Occupational Training will be surveyed in pending follow-on research employing a similar survey adjusted to their specific work environment and experience. The essential contents, i.e., questions and format, from the Statistics Canada survey will be used for each group, and the results will be used collectively with those of the original survey to provide a more comprehensive picture of the extent of the problem within these various settings.

Military College students in Kingston and St Jean are being surveyed now using a specifically designed tool and CAF members attending recruit training will be surveyed during the final week of each serial. This began in November 2016 and will continue for a year. Additionally, members of the Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS) will complete their survey by the end of December 2016. Finally, a select sample of those on basic occupational training courses will be surveyed over the next year.

The institutional organization responsible for personnel research, Military Personnel Research and Analysis, is currently working with the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre and the Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct to develop performance measurement indicators. To further enhance understanding, new survey questions regarding harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour were added to the Fall 2016 Your Say Survey.

There are a number of research projects that are ongoing that will assess various issues including (but not limited to) culture, leadership, prevention, and victim support. These projects will use various methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative, to enable us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the influences contributing to the problem. For example, the project on Victim Support will involve a sample of victims and available CAF resources (helpers) through interviews and focus groups to identify best practices and challenges faced by victims in order to develop appropriate programs and support mechanisms. Other methodologies include using surveys, such as the Your Say Survey and monthly tracking of incidents.

Additionally, the personnel research organization is currently conducting research to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces understands the underlying social and cultural issues both causing and being caused or exacerbated by harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. This research will cover ten diverse subject areas.

In the longer term, credible research in the area of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour from both internal sources and that of other subject matter experts and organizations will bolster the level of understanding within the Canadian Armed Forces on the subject. The CAF is working to establish partnerships and relationships with a number of highly regarded external organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research and the International Society for Military Ethics to enhance access to a wider range of national and international comprehensive data, validation and performance measurement tools in the next year.

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