Report on abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy

26 Nov 2014

This review assessed accounts of abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and recommends a Royal Commission.


The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (Taskforce) was established on 26 november 2012 as part of the Government’s response to the review conducted by law firm DLA piper into allegations of sexual or other forms of abuse in Defence (DLA piper Review).

Among approximately 2400 complaints of alleged abuse in Defence received by the Taskforce, as at 2 october 2014, 50 have been assessed as raising plausible allegations of abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), a tri-service military training establishment of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory (ACT). At ADFA, midshipmen from the navy and officer cadets from the Army and Air force (referred to in this report collectively as ‘cadets’) undertake military education and training in combination with a university education.

These complaints relate to allegations of abuse spanning from 1986, the year ADFA was established, until 2011. The vast majority of complainants were cadets at ADFA at the time. Women are significantly over represented as ADFA complainants (64 per cent of ADFA complainants) compared to the proportion of women at ADFA at any time (for example, women represented approximately 21 per cent of the cadet population in 2014).

Many cadets no doubt had positive and formative experiences at ADFA, and have gone on to pursue successful careers as officers in Defence. However, the information provided by complainants and other people who have contacted the Taskforce raises a significant number of very serious allegations of abuse occurring at ADFA over a long period of time.

The complaints made to the Taskforce raise a significant number of allegations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, physical abuse and harassment and bullying, where the alleged abusers were either cadets, ADFA staff members or other more senior ranking members of Defence (including medical staff or members of Defence at locations where cadets attended for training or other purposes).

While some complainants reported being subjected to one incident of abuse, many claim to have been subjected to multiple types of abuse and/or to ongoing incidents of abuse throughout their time at ADFA. A significant number of complainants reported experiencing serious incidents of sexual or physical abuse that may have constituted criminal conduct. This report includes numerous first-hand accounts of abuse experienced by complainants at ADFA, both in short extracts quoted throughout and in longer case studies in Appendix A.

As at 2 october 2014, the Taskforce has assessed 63 of the 76 complaints received relating to ADFA. fifty of these complaints have been assessed as falling within the scope of the Taskforce Terms of Reference and as raising one or more plausible allegations of abuse. In these cases, complainants are now being provided with access to Taskforce outcomes appropriate to their individual circumstances. These may include: counselling; a Reparation payment; referral for criminal investigation; a recommendation to Defence that administrative and/or disciplinary action be taken; and the opportunity to have their personal story of abuse heard, acknowledged and responded to by a senior Defence representative through the Defence Abuse Restorative engagement program.

Analysis of the complaints made to the Taskforce about ADFA reveals disturbing features of abuse and mismanagement including: widespread harassment and bullying across the entire period of ADFA’s operation, particularly of female cadets, cadets in their first year, or cadets who were ill or injured, frequently perpetrated by more senior cadets; a disturbing incidence of sexual abuse by cadets, including some serious incidents where it appears that those responsible were not held to account; a significant amount of gender-based harassment and bullying and sexual harassment experienced by female cadets; and some serious physical assaults of cadets.

Virtually all ADFA complaints assessed as raising one or more plausible allegations of abuse have also been assessed as including one or more plausible cases of Defence mismanagement. In many cases, complainants indicated that they reported abuse to ADFA staff members who did not respond appropriately.

In many other cases, complainants indicated that they did not report abuse for a number of reasons including: a culture that did not support reporting of abuse; a perceived lack of effective reporting mechanisms; stigma and shame associated with having been abused; threats of further abuse or fear of reprisal; lack of confidence in staff members; or because staff members or more senior cadets in a position of authority were responsible for the abuse. The Taskforce has found that many such complaints raise plausible cases of Defence mismanagement, as particular patterns or practices of abuse existed during certain periods at ADFA such that the Taskforce is satisfied Defence knew or ought to have known about the abuse and yet failed to take appropriate action to prevent or stop the abuse occurring.

In line with its Terms of Reference, the Taskforce has examined allegations of sexual abuse of women at ADFA in the 1990s using all available sources of information, including numerous documents provided by Defence relating to that period and material from accounts provided by complainants to the Taskforce.

The Taskforce has concluded that there was a disturbingly high incidence of sexual abuse of female cadets during that time period; that in some of these cases, reports of sexual abuse were seriously mismanaged by Defence; and that a number of individuals allegedly responsible for perpetrating sexual abuse are still serving in Defence. The Taskforce is continuing to accept complaints from women who experienced sexual abuse at ADFA during this period.

Individuals who have come forward to the Taskforce have told of the lasting impacts of the abuse they experienced at ADFA, in many cases including ruined careers, severe emotional distress, impacts on relationships, physical impacts, psychological disorders, suicidal ideation and social isolation. In some cases they have never told anyone about the abuse prior to reporting it to the Taskforce, and the experience of re-living the trauma has been a difficult one. The Taskforce continues to offer support to complainants engaging with this difficult process.

This report primarily focuses on complaints made to the Taskforce about abuse at ADFA. The report:

  • provides background information regarding the work of the Taskforce and about ADFA;
  • outlines the complaints that have been assessed as raising plausible allegations of abuse at ADFA;
  • examines the Defence response to reports of abuse at ADFA;
  • considers the incidence of sexual abuse of women at ADFA during the 1990s;
  • identifies some of the significant factors contributing to abuse at ADFA;
  • outlines the impacts of abuse on complainants;
  • summarises the outcomes provided to complainants by the Taskforce to date; and
  • draws some overarching conclusions about the nature and extent of abuse at ADFA.
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