Just a couple of weeks ago, the official date was set for the formal apology to survivors of Military Sexual Trauma. Since then I’ve been asked, and thought a lot about, what I hope to hear.
What I’d like to hear is a fullsome and accurate understanding of the harm that has been done to survivors of MST. Not just what was done (or not done) but also how these decisions and actions impacted people with lived experience. And not just the tolerance of sexual misconduct itself but the institutional betrayal after the fact, which caused ongoing sanctuary trauma to survivors. The minimizing, the victim blaming, the himpathy, all manner of moral injury.
Hearing that the root causes and harm are understood, survivors can have confidence that the problem has been well defined.
Secondly, I would like to hear how the institution is going to make sure this cannot continue happening. What are the structural and procedural approaches, yes. But structural solutions alone cannot solve cultural problems. Scientific procedures for assessing and promoting leaders will take years to have an impact.
Structural solutions alone cannot solve cultural problems.
So, how are leaders going to change their language (spoken, written, body language) in order to reflect a new culture right now? How far are leaders willing to step outside the comfort zone of what has gotten them to the place they’re in right now.
Will they adopt a new style of leadership – truly inclusive leadership – that is built on a solid foundation of self awareness, self compassion and vulnerability? Will they set the example of abandoning traditional (hypermasculine) hierarchical structures of “power over” others and practice modern, inclusive “power to” and “power with” other people? What will they do, on a personal level, to create psychological safety within the institution?
Things need to change radically in order to shift the power dynamics that allow for all manner of abuse in the CAF: sexism, misogyny and sexual misconduct, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism. And specific dimensions of power specific to military or other rigid hierarchies: rankism, what I call “tradeism” (support trades are less valuable than operator trades), and even Anglophone language superiority. There can be no hierarchy of human value if we are going to eradicate abuse.
There can be no hierarchy of human value if we are going to eradicate abuse.
When leaders demonstrate a clear understanding of the problem and its impact, and outline a clear plan for avoiding further harm, it can give survivors hope and the space to heal. Many are held back from healing because their wounds are deepened every day by witnessing similar harms perpetrated on others or knowing that others are in constant danger of trauma. We need to hear and feel that it’s going to be safe to open up enough to undertake a healing process – whatever that looks like at an individual level.
The giving and receiving of a proper apology is a gateway to healing. I’m really hopeful that this will be a turning point.