2018 Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Backgrounder

In the fall of 2018, Statistics Canada conducted a voluntary survey on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), on behalf of the CAF. The survey, which was commissioned to support 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 2018 survey is the second in a series; the first survey was conducted by Statistics Canada in 2016. The goal of this second survey is to collect up-to-date data on behaviours and attitudes related to sexual misconduct within the CAF, gain insight on the effect of Operation HONOUR (initiated in 2015), and to identify areas that require more effort for improvement.

The CAF contracted Statistics Canada to conduct both surveys 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 sexual misconduct within the military, to understand CAF members’ awareness of policy, programs and associated support mechanisms and to determine reporting trends.

Members of the CAF Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct, the Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis group, and Statistics Canada worked collaboratively to develop the survey content and the release strategy. The 2018 survey was designed so that the results could be compared directly to the benchmark results from the 2016 survey. New questions were added to look at actions taken by those not directly involved in a given incident. The second survey results also include findings on both reserve and regular forces members, whereas the first survey results reported predominantly on the experiences of regular force members. 

Participation in the survey was voluntary for personnel. 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.

Data collection

The survey was conducted using an online questionnaire distributed to 55,300 members of the CAF Regular Force and 27,000 members of the Primary Reserve. All participants were provided a unique access code via email and by a letter mailed to their primary residence. The secure access code enabled them to access the secure Statistics Canada server to complete the survey.

Statistics Canada collected the data between September and November, 2018.  The overall response rate was 44%. The response rate was 52% for Regular Force members and 29% for Primary Reserve members, both down from 2016 response rates, which were 61% and 36%, respectively.  In all, 28,541 Regular Force members and 7,938 Primary Reserve members completed and submitted the questionnaire; the responses for the two groups were weighted so as to represent the entirety of their respective populations. After weighting, the submitted responses represented approximately 55,900 Regular Force members and 27,600 Primary Reserve members.

Survey exclusions

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, 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. The CAF has and continues to undertake other research projects to better understand sexual misconduct in the context of these key populations.

Future data collection

The CAF is committed to repeating the survey on a regular basis as a means of tracking progress over time. We will be working with Statistics Canada to determine when the next survey will be administered. 

Those groups who were excluded from the survey will receive a survey that has been designed to address their unique employment, experience and service circumstances. Following the 2016 survey, surveys were conducted with the Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS), Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School (CFLRS), and Regular Force members on Initial Occupational Training. The COATS study has been completed and a re-administration of this survey has been planned. Results for Basic Military Qualification and the Basic Military Officer Qualification courses at CFLRS have been analyzed. Reports have been completed for Royal Canadian Air Force and Military Personnel Command initial occupation training. These surveys are forecast to be re-administered following the 2018 survey. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army both have on-going surveys on sexual misconduct that trainees fill out upon completion of their initial occupation training courses. Results for these surveys will be analyzed when a sufficient number of surveys have been completed to allow for statistical analysis.

Military College students in Kingston and St. Jean are participating in the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population. The survey will include full- and part-time students who are attending or attended a public or private postsecondary school, college, CEGEP, or university in a province in the 12 months preceding the survey. This survey measures the prevalence and nature of the following types of self-reported victimization among postsecondary students: inappropriate sexual behaviours; harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity; and sexual assault. The survey will be conducted from February to June 2019, with a report scheduled for March 2020.

The Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis organization is currently conducting a broad research program related to sexual misconduct. This includes studies on bystander behaviours, implicit bias, measuring and monitoring culture change, socialization, leadership dynamics, victim support, and the assessment of the Respect in the CAF Workshop.

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