A royal commission into abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADfA) is the only way to ensure a thorough and complete investigation, according to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce.
There’s an actual or perceived lack of capacity by Defence to deal with the abuse issues, according to the Taskforce, established in 2012 following the Skype sexual abuse case.
The taskforce found there are still deficiencies, inlcuding staff, alcohol and cultural problems at the academy with cadets believing that reporting abuse could lead to negative consequences.
During its investigations, the taskforce received 2,400 complaints of abuse in Defence forces. Of these 76 relate to the academy in Canberra between 1986 when it was established and 2011. Fifty of those fit the terms of reference for the taskforce.
The report says there was a disturbingly high incidence of sexual abuse of female cadets at the academy in the 1990s.
In some cases, reports of sexual abuse were seriously mismanaged by Defence.
And a number of individuals allegedly responsible for perpetrating sexual abuse are still serving in Defence.
Abuse was reported at the academy well into the 2000s, even after a series of reviews identifying abuse as a concern.
Here are some examples of cases investigated by the taskforce:
My time at ADfA can be summarised as three years spent being terrified, and on occasion, scared for my life. I was psychologically and physically abused during this time. […] The worst thing was that no staff members helped. (cadet, late 1980s)
After I was raped [he] told me that if I made an official complaint I would not be allowed to stay at ADfA and that no one would believe me. I made no report of the incident at this time. (cadet, mid 1990s)
He left after this and I stayed awake for a lot of that night as I was too scared to sleep in case he would enter my room again whilst I was sleeping and try something else again. (cadet, early 2000s)
A number of key factors contributed to the abuse including issues of gender and culture within the male-dominated environment.
Other issues included: suitability and experience of staff, inadequate levels of supervision and security in the academy accommodation, excessive use of alcohol by cadets, the existence of a culture which discouraged reporting of abuse, inadequate responses to reports of abuse and issues of leadership.
The academy has taken steps to address many of these issues and significant improvements have been made, the taskforce said
However, there are continuing issues: ongoing cultural deficiencies resulting in unacceptable behaviour; difficulties in removing unsuitable staff; safety and security of cadets; excessive alcohol use; and continued perceptions among cadets that reporting abuse could lead to negative consequences, contributing to ongoing problems of under-reporting.
The taskforce was formed following a media report about 18-year-old “Kate”, a defence force cadet who was filmed without her knowledge having sex with another cadet in 2011.
Others who experienced abuse came forward after her story became public.
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