, SYDNEY, Nov 3 – A review into the treatment of women at Australia’s premier military college on Thursday reported “widespread low-level sexual harassment” after a scandal over an Internet sex broadcast.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said there was a culture of “accommodating” women rather than including them as equals at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), where she investigated allegations of sexism.
Broderick was asked to examine the treatment of women at ADFA after a female cadet was unwittingly broadcast having sex with a male colleague online to other classmates, sparking outrage.
The review found that the culture had vastly improved since the last major review of sexual harassment at the college in 1998, but Broderick said there was still some way to go on addressing gender imbalances.
“Our review also found widespread, low-level sexual harassment; inadequate levels of supervision, particularly for first-year cadets; an equity and diversity environment marked by punishment rather than engagement; and cumbersome complaints processes,” Broderick wrote.
Some 74 percent of women reported suffering sexual or gender-based harassment and an ex-staff member said second and third-year males competed for a “trifecta” of sex with first-year women from army, air force and navy.
Women accounted for 21 percent of ADFA’s 1,071 cadets, and two percent had reported being raped, with one former cadet describing a “strong culture of commodification of women, particularly as sexual objects” at the academy.
“Female cadets were often treated as ‘game’ after hours, rather than as respected colleagues,” she was quoted as saying.
“Female cadets were often harassed by male cadets and these sorts of actions were simply part of the culture at ADFA.”
Two-thirds of the cadets at ADFA were army trainees, resulting in what Broderick described as a “warrior culture” emphasising strength and fitness and putting loyalty to colleagues above all else, sometimes at personal expense.
Some cadets at the college were as young as 16 and most had come directly from school, with very little after-hours supervision in mostly mixed-sex dormitories and where alcohol was available at less than half retail price.
Boosting maturity levels through a one-year military immersion programme prior to admission was among 31 recommendations made by Broderick, who also called for more female staff and increased live-in supervisors at the college.
She said ADFA should, “as a priority”, obtain an independent risk assessment of the mixed dormitory environment, including sharing of bathrooms, and consider elevating the price of alcohol and conducting regular breath-testing.
Cadets should also receive training about the meaning of consent, sexual relationships and the appropriate use of technology, and Broderick said equity and diversity should be taught as “core values underpinning (ADFA’s) culture”.
Speaking ahead of the report’s release, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the government intended to respond “positively and favourably” to its findings, which he had already seen.
“We want to move forward comprehensively on all of the issues,” Smith said.
The ADFA review is the first phase of a sweeping review by Broderick into the treatment of women in Australia’s military, which has already seen Canberra agree to open all frontline combat roles to female troops.