New claims of inappropriate behaviour at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)

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New claims of inappropriate behaviour at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)

Posted 8/04/2011 by David Watt

Defence force personel
Reports in the Australian media that a male first-year army cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) both filmed and broadcast himself having consensual sex with an 18 year-old female first-year air force cadet have once again raised concerns about the male-dominated environment and culture of the Australian Defence Force, and its acceptance and treatment of women (only 14.5 percent of ADF members are women). It is alleged that the male cadet’s room had been equipped with a number of web cameras and that the feed from these was being watched live via Skype by six other male cadets in a nearby room. The woman was unaware that she was being filmed and that the footage was being watched.

The Minister for Defence has condemned the behaviour stating that he could not imagine ‘a greater betrayal of trust of a colleague in the workplace than the suggestions that have been made'. He also stated that he was comfortable with the woman going public with the accusation. Chief of Defence Force (CDF), Angus Houston, has also condemned the event describing it as ‘completely abhorrent’.

The actions of the male cadets are being investigated by the Department of Defence and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). AFP Commissioner, Tony Negus, was reported to have said that the AFP was in discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine whether or not a criminal offence had been committed. He stated that whether an offence was committed depends on a ‘range of circumstances’ including whether the imagery was transmitted across a telecommunications device.

The Commandant of ADFA, Commodore Bruce Kafer has been reported as stating that anyone found guilty of a criminal offence could have their career in the ADF terminated.

The woman approached the media because she was concerned that she had not been offered appropriate support by Commodore Kafer and was reportedly worried that the incident would be covered up by ADFA.

The incident comes just two months after the release of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of sexually predatory behaviour on board HMAS Success. Inquiry President, Roger Gyles QC found that a culture of alcohol-fuelled sexual misadventure had existed on board the vessel which included, the placing of a sexual bounty on the head of one female sailor, a close relationship between the consumption of alcohol and sexual relations between male and female sailors, and the performing of public sex acts during shore leave in the port of Qingdao.

The HMAS Success allegations are not the first time that a RAN vessel has been the centre of a sexual misconduct investigation. In 1992, a female Medical Officer serving on HMAS Swan filed a complaint that a fellow officer had sexually assaulted her. The accused officer was acquitted at court martial but a series of further allegations of sexual harassment had been made by the time of the trial. Public dissatisfaction with the outcome of a subsequent Navy Board of Inquiry into the matter led to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade investigating not only the HMAS Swan allegations, but the broader issue of sexual harassment in the Australian Defence Force. The resulting report, Sexual Harassment in the Australian Defence Force made 42 recommendations which went to virtually all aspects of Defence’s management of this issue. This included the handling and investigation of complaints, the management by Navy of sailors on shore leave, and the accountability of senior officers for the proper handling of complaints.

The ADF response to the Senate report—Report to the Senate on the Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Australian Defence Force—details the substantial variety of measures being taken by Defence in order to combat sexual harassment. Defence also commissioned Major Kathryn Quinn of the Army Psychology Corps to carry out an extensive survey of the issue—Sexual Harassment in The Australian Defence Force. Major Quinn’s study found that rates of harassment had declined somewhat from the 1980s and were probably not higher in the ADF than elsewhere in the community.

The current complaint is also not the first time that ADFA itself has been embroiled in issues of sexual harassment or assault. In 1998 repeated accusations by ADFA cadets of sexual assault and even rape by fellow cadets resulted in Defence commissioning Ms Bronwen Grey (the then Head of the Defence Personnel Executive) to report on conditions at the Academy. The subsequent report Australian Defence Force: report of the Review into Policies and Practices to Deal with Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences at the Australian Defence Force Academy found that there was a high level of unacceptable sexual behaviour and that there was tolerance of this behaviour by other cadets and military staff.

Since the 1980s, when similar accusations were made by women serving at RAAF Base Edinburgh, senior defence officers tend to state after any of these incidents that there is a policy of zero tolerance towards harassment of any kind and that the complaints will be fully investigated. Given that the policy of zero tolerance is now more than two decades old, and several inquiries have been held into the issue, why are incidents of the current sort still occurring?

As Dr Ben Wadham, a sociologist at Flinders University, commented to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s AM program on 6 April, part of the answer might be that Defence:
...may have made attempts to create gender equity but it hasn't addressed that principal question about its culture as one that persists where the culture is male-dominated and women remain guests in that environment.
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