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What’s With the Australian Defence Force and Sexual Abuse?

The Australian Defence Force has been struck with yet another sex scandal after a group of male army officers disseminated e-mails of themselves having sex along with derogatory remarks about the women involved.
LJ
Κείμενο Lily Jovic
26.6.13

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The Australian Defence Force has been struck with yet another sex scandal after a group of male army officers, who have been referred to as the “Jedi Council,” disseminated e-mails of themselves having sex along with derogatory remarks about the women involved.

Days after that story surfaced, The Sydney Morning Herald published an article about offensive social media pages allegedly linked to soldiers in Townsville, one of which is titled “Big Tits Don’t Count If Ya Fat”.

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Although the two incidents are not related, it makes you wonder about a couple of things. Like, how surprising is it when reports of sexism and abuse surface in the military? And is this kind of thing more prevalent in the armed forces than in the rest of society?

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, recently conducted a review into the treatment of women in the defence force.

VICE: What is it with the ADF and sexual abuse?

Elizabeth Broderick: Part of it is because it’s a male-dominated culture. We see some of it in male-dominated trades, and when you get that type of culture you have to be a ‘man’s man’. Winning is everything, it’s really a strong warrior culture where you don’t speak out. These are all strong hallmarks of a culture that is male dominated. The problem with that is if don’t fit into that norm, if you dare to speak out about sexual assault, then you will be victimised because you breaking one of the strong warrior rules.

Would you say women are therefore more likely to be harassed in the ADF than in other professions? 

As part of our review we actually did a national sexual harassment survey where I looked at the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces generally. For the first time, I also included the Australian Defence Force. What we found was that your chances of getting sexually harassed in the ADF and the general community are about the same. Twenty five percent of women have been sexually harassed in the Australian workforce and the ADF in the last five years.

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So there are similarities between what’s happening in defence force to behaviour at, say, a law firm?

What I would say is that the degree of severity is often much greater in the ADF. Not only that, but the women’s ability to speak about it is also less in the defence because of fear of victimisation.

General Morrison, Australia’s Chief of Army, said there are more than a hundred personnel being investigated. Is this an attitude that is engrained in them during their service?

Unfortunately you’ll find men like that across Australian society. But what David said was really important, he said that its not a case of a few bad apples, this is a systemic cultural problem. So, the fact it’s allowed to happen in the ADF points to fact that people who know about it aren’t standing up and commenting on it. Clearly, these people thought it was acceptable or they’d get away with it. These types of views show you you’ve got a really systemic problem there, and some people that just don’t get it. But I have to say, after the strong leadership displayed this week, if you’re a man in the ADF and you still think its okay, your better off trying to find a future somewhere else to be honest.

Yeah, General Morrisson pretty much looked like he was going to cry in his media address. He seemed genuinely disgusted.

I can assure you he was.

It begs the question, where do these attitudes stem from?

Some will join up with generational views, which will be that men and women aren’t equal. Some will think that women have no place in the military, and will gladly demean them wherever they can, and some think if they want to be a strong warrior, demeaning women is part of what that’s about.

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And this behavior spreads from there?

That’s absolutely the case. Actually it’s the group of people that sit in the middle that need to be taking the message out there, like the non commissioned and warrant officers. If you get a group of men at that level who don’t think women have a place in the military, they are cultural ambassadors for the military, and they imprint that view on younger men coming through and that’s where you get real problems. It’s working with men in that middle band, granted there are some good men in there, encouraging them to take out the message of gender equality to other men.

What are the types of abuse reported?

It’s a anything from demeaning attitudes about women, to belittling them and their position in the workplace, to more severe degrees of sexual harassment and sexual assault. There is still quite a bit of that behaviour that needs to be stamped out.

Given what has happened, is another review in order?

No, I think it’s just us continuing to work with the military. They have moved a long way in quite a short period, so I do think they have made progress sometimes people just can’t see that. They have a long way to go, I don’t deny that for one minute. They need to keep working with the vigour they’re currently showing, they need to re-double they’re efforts in eradicating this from the workplace.

Do these kinds of “scandals” occur more frequently than what is leaked to the public?

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There are a number of issues and potential scandals happening, hopefully there’s a much more engaged leadership now and it’s being addressed much earlier on. That’s what I’m hoping anyway. However, we will see more scandals emerge I’m absolutely certain about that.

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