SYDNEY — Nearly three-quarters of female cadets at Australia's military training academy have been sexually harassed, a government report found after a series of scandals involving the mistreatment of women in Australia's defense force.
Conditions have improved in recent years and the Australian Defence Force Academy is generally a safe place for female cadets, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission's report, released Thursday. But the review found the academy culture still was far from ideal for women, with 74 percent of female cadets reporting they had experienced sexual or gender-based harassment.
"If Australia is to have the finest naval and military force, it must have the finest officer education and training system – a system which values the contribution of both women and men," said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who led the inquiry.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith ordered the review in April, after a female cadet was secretly filmed having sex with another cadet. The video was then broadcast over the Internet to other male cadets at the academy. The woman said she had no idea she'd been filmed until military officials told her.
Two months before that, a report found a culture of predatory sexual behavior and intimidation on board a navy ship, amid allegations a group of sailors on the HMAS Success had run a contest to see who could have sex with the most female crew mates.
Smith, furious over both scandals, asked Broderick to examine the culture at the academy and its impact on female cadets. A second phase of the review, expected to be completed next year, will look at the treatment of women across the entire defense force. Separate reviews are examining the use of alcohol and social media, women's leadership pathways and other military issues.
Officials interviewed more than one quarter of cadets at the academy, all of whom were randomly selected. The cadets participated in small focus groups, filled out surveys and came together for larger group discussions to share their experiences. The most common forms of harassment experienced by female cadets involved unwanted sexual jokes or stories, or inappropriate personal questions.
The review found that high staff turnover of high-ranking officers, a complicated complaints process and inadequate supervision of cadets contributed to the problem. The review made 31 recommendations, including the establishment of a 24-hour hotline for complaints, increased monitoring of cadets in residential areas, better education on the meaning of consent, and a possible increase in the price of alcohol available in the mess hall to help reduce heavy drinking.
"(The academy) needs to move from an attitude of managing and accommodating women to an attitude of full inclusion of women – where women are recognized as an essential and vital part of the future capability of the Australian defense force," Broderick said.
Smith said in a statement that he welcomed the report's findings and that he has asked senior defense officials to identify the best way to adopt its recommendations. An independent audit will be held in one year to examine how well the recommendations have been implemented.