Australia

Australian Defence Force recognises failure to deal with sexual misconduct incidents

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has acknowledged its failure to deal with sexual misconduct within its ranks in response to pressure over its handling of past incidents.
In a statement released unexpectedly on Thursday afternoon, the Department of Defence made no reference to a specific incident, but committed to doing better.
The response follows a recent campaign from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph titled Uniform Justice, which has documented accounts of former members of the defence force being subjected to sexual misconduct incidents.
The department said it takes all allegations seriously.
“Defence acknowledges our previous failures to adequately handle sexual misconduct incidents,” the department said in the statement.
“Defence is committed to doing better.”
Defence’s public intervention encourages members who have experienced sexual misconduct to report the incident either through the military policy, state and territory police, the Australian Federal Police or through their chain of command.

The statement also comes alongside the arrival of the new Labor government with the department now under the leadership of Defence Minister Richard Marles.

Defence Minister Richard Marles. Source: EPA / SHAWN THEW

The ADF has dealt with allegations of sexual assault and misconduct dating back decades, with several high profile cases prompting the formation of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office in 2013.

But concerns have persisted with sexual assault complaints in , with the majority of concerns raised over incidents of aggravated misconduct.

The figures from the Department’s latest annual report show the highest number of alleged incidents recorded in at least eight years.

The sexual assault allegations reported also show an increase compared to previous figures of 160 in 2019-20, 166 in 2018-19 and 170 in 2017-18.
also revealed several allegations of sexual assault made against US marines serving in Australia with investigations into them dropped or shifted overseas.

The survivors also shared concerns about feeling discouraged by the ADF from following through on their complaints.

Lawyer and former army officer Glenn Kolomeitz, who is representing a dozen survivors of military sexual trauma, said the statement from Defence was a “long time” coming recognition of an inability to protect members.
“We know this is an ongoing problem and that statement doesn’t tell us how Defence is going to address this crisis,” he told SBS News.
“Our cases evidence sexual misconduct – military sexual trauma going back decades but also going back less than a year.
“The systems are not working and they have not worked and we need to see something in place to make this workplace safe and secure.

“All of our survivors need to see action and not just words.”

The department said disciplinary or administrative action in addition to criminal charges would be considered if the alleged perpetrator is a member of the ADF.
“Where sexual offence allegations are made, the victim’s preferences to take action are given significant consideration,” it said.
Individuals accused of misconduct will also be entitled to support while the matter is investigated and are entitled to the presumption of innocence, the department added.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.
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