Women at Australian Defence Force Academy treated as “game,” inquiry finds

Regular readers know I’ve been following the story about women cadets at the Australian Defence Force Academy for some time now. This April, ADFA became embroiled in scandal when one cadet had consensual sex with another, then filmed and broadcast the encounter to a group of other cadets via Skype without her consent.

In the aftermath of the incident, a dozens of cadets and former cadets alleged that they had been victims of sexual harassment, assault and abuse at ADFA and in the Australian Defence Force. One outcome was an in-depth inquiry into the culture of the ADF and its schools, with particular attention paid to the treatment of women.

Last week, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick revealed the results of that inquiry, and unsurprisingly, they are grim. ADFA is rife with sexual harassment, with 74% – as in, three out of four – women cadets reporting they had been harassed. Among men cadets, the figure is 30%.

When it comes to sexual assault, the numbers are also disturbing. 2.1% of women report being forced into sex, while 4.3% of women and 1.9% of men report “being treated badly for refusing to have sex.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

”Among cadets there was a strong culture of commodification of women, particularly as sexual objects,” one female former cadet told the review panel.

”Female cadets were often treated as ‘game’ after hours, rather than as respected colleagues. Female cadets were often harassed by male cadets [and] these sorts of actions were simply part of the culture at ADFA.”

Another former cadet said she had been sitting in her room at her desk when a male cadet walked in, opened his fly and asked her to perform oral sex on him. She declined, but it took a ”significant effort” to get the male cadet to leave.

Broderick attributes the problem to a number of factors, including poor leadership, a lack of appreciation for women’s abilities as soldiers, and the “warrior culture” of the ADF. The inquiry also found that the process for reporting incidents of harassment and assault is “cumbersome” and that when it comes to diversity and equality, enforcement focused on punishment rather than on engagement, which makes cultural change less likely.

Among Broderick’s thirty-one recommendations to the ADF, including the creation of mentor positions for women cadets and an assessment of mixed gender accommodations, which interviewees in the survey identified as being part of the problem. You can read the full report here.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

Read more about Chloe

Join the Conversation