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How the Australian army reacts to sexual misconduct

The Australian army is currently investigating a ring of officers and NCOs accused of distributing explicit photos and videos denigrating women. Calling themselves the “Jedi Council,” the men e-mailed among themselves thousands of degrading videos and photos of sexual encounters with women, military and civilian, without their knowledge. So far the army has identified three main offenders, including senior members of the defense force; 14 individuals “intimately linked” to the scandal; and more than 90 others who will be targeted for further investigation, in a number of geographic areas and areas of service. Lieutenant General David Morrison, Chief of Army, describes the text and images as “explicit, derogatory, demeaning, and repugnant to me.”

While Morrison says the scandal shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on the conduct of the men and women of the army as a whole, he clearly identifies it as a symptom of a systemic problem rather than just the actions of a few bad individuals and takes personal responsibility for it, saying, “I’m responsible for this. I’m the chief of the Australian army. The culture of the army is in my hands during my tenure, and I’m doing as much as I humanly can to improve it.”

On Wednesday, Morrison spoke the media, then delivered an unblinking video address directly to the members of the Australian army.

Earlier today, I addressed the media, and through them the Australian public, about ongoing investigations into a group of officers and NCOs whose conduct, if proven, has not only brought the Australian army into disrepute, but has let down every one of you and all of those whose past service has won the respect of our nation.

There are limits to how much I can tell you, because the investigations into this network by both the New South Wales Police and the ADF Investigative Service are ongoing. But evidence collected to date has identified a group of men within our ranks who have allegedly produced highly inappropriate material demeaning women and distributed it across the Internet and Defence’s e-mail networks. If this is true, then the actions of these members are in direct contravention to every value the Australian army stands for.

By now, I assume you know my attitude to this type of conduct. I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization in which every soldier, man and woman, is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. Our service has been engaged in continuous operation since 1999, and in its longest war ever in Afghanistan. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.

If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others.

Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army. I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those who, by their rank, have a leadership role. If we are a great national institution, if we care about the legacy left to us by those who have served before us, if we care about the legacy we leave to those who, in turn, will protect and secure Australia, then it is up to us to make a difference. If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this brand of brothers and sisters.

20 thoughts on How the Australian army reacts to sexual misconduct

  1. Puts the U.S. response to shame.

    AND, I would love it if the internet reacted with such awe and admiration whenever a WOMAN talks about the problems of misogyny and sexism and discrimination. Guess a man has to say it for people to sit up and take notice.

    1. AND, I would love it if the internet reacted with such awe and admiration whenever a WOMAN talks about the problems of misogyny and sexism and discrimination. Guess a man has to say it for people to sit up and take notice.

      Part of this problem, of course, is how few women are in roles equal to Morrison’s.

      1. The problem is that women in general have fewer positions of institutional power in order to say such things. But I think we can even bracket the relative pulpit size of the speaker and say that gender has a lot to do with how it is received. I can imagine a parallel world in which all things about the above article are true except Morrison is a Ms….and Ms. Morrison would still get less attention than the Mr. It’s irritating, but I guess a phenomena that cuts across all oppressions.

        Cookie, anyone?

        1. Hugh, that’s a legal thing. Given these creeps are the subject of a criminal investigation (even if they were at the point of being charged and face trial), Morrison personally and the Defence Force generally would be liable to be sued for defamation and injurious falsehood. It’s a pretty standard tool in the media to preface any accusation (until the accusation is proven by a conviction) with a token “allegedly” to avoid legal liability.

          Notwithstanding that he satisfied Defence’s lawyers by using “allegedly” in respect of the specific group & incident that is the subject of this investigation, I think he was really very excellent in speaking directly to (and appropriately blaming) that group, and all other perpetrators of misogyny in the force. It’s unusual you see an institution like the military recognising its sexist culture, publicly calling it out and blaming the perpetrators and not the victims.

        2. @Jo: Yes, I know that there are legal reasons. But the fact that he has legal reasons to deny its reality doesn’t mean that’s not what he’s doing. He decided to prioritise his organisation’s need to not get sued over believing survivors. So I think my criticism stands.

        3. It’s not an indication that he doesn’t believe the survivors — it’s an indication that he isn’t free to make absolute statements because of a lack of incontrovertible evidence. If you read the full text (or watch the video — God, the man doesn’t blink for two whole minutes; he makes me want to apologize, and I haven’t even done anything), it’s clear that he does take it seriously and does feel it necessary to eliminate any such attitudes and behaviors from his army.

          Look at it this way (and I don’t know much about the Australian military justice system, so I apologize for any U.S.centrism): Morrison makes his statement in a video to his troops without any qualifying language, indicating from an official position that these men are guilty of all accusations. Now everyone under his command has been told by their boss that the men are guilty. Every piece of evidence the investigators collect and every potential juror and every witness for the trial has been exposed to this message from the ultimate authority that the accused are guilty. What do you think the defense is going to do with that? Move for a change of venue, probably, since they won’t be able to find an unbiased jury. They would probably object to a lot of testimony on the grounds that the witnesses have been unduly influenced. They might be able to have evidence thrown out if it’s acquired via sources that have been influenced by Morrison’s statement. Basically, the accused could actually win their case because Morrison spoke unqualifiedly and the defense jumped on it. So it goes a little bit deeper than “his organisation’s need to not get sued.”

      2. Why should a woman talking about how horrendous sexual assault is have to be in a position of authority? My point is, we say this and say this and say this and say this, and when a dude in a uniform says the exact same thing women have said for centuries, it’s as though he invented “the radical notion that women are people.”

        1. I’m impressed not because he’s saying anything revolutionary (because obviously he’s not) but because, as a representative of the institution, he’s speaking at all. He wasn’t addressing the horrendousness of sexual assault; he was addressing the army’s response to it, which so frequently is dismissal and coverup. For an institution to come out and say, in so many words, “We take responsibility for the culture in which this happened, we want to emphasize that these actions and attitudes are unacceptable, and we invite anyone who disagrees to leave” without hand-waving or victim-blaming is noteworthy.

        2. @Caperton: Except he takes no responsibility and doesn’t admit that it’s happening. Watch it again – how many times does he say ‘alleged’, or ‘if proven’?

  2. Meanwhile, the US Military has responded to sexual assault crisis by imposing a harsh curfew, banning all alcohol on base (at least for certain enlisted schools), and making punishments for underage drinking harsher.

    All of which are likely to suppress sexual assault allegations, not suppress sexual assault, because any female soldier who’d been illicitly drunk when raped will now have to face heightened punishment if she comes forward.

  3. Magnificent. Saw this the other day, watched it several times, and posted it everywhere. True leadership at its finest. Bravo and carry on sir!

  4. The sad part is, sexual abuse is endemic in the Australian army, and goes right up through the ranks – usual story: the ones supposed to be preventing and punishing are often also the perpertrators – and this has been going on for decades. There have been a lot of news stories over the last years about this … and every time there’s another, it’s obvious that nothing much has changed.

  5. What’s wrong with exchanging private emails? If they’ve committed sexual assault that is a problem, but the main problem is the assault, not exchanging private emails. And you can’t just decide to leave the army. And why should you have trouble finding an employer – if you want to do weird stuff in your own time in your private life that should be cool. Employers shouldn’t have control over your private life. Obviously there may be more to this than that which may come out, but if they are just sharing homemade porn, then it is a bit of an overreaction.

    1. The videos are reported to be of a group of guys, some senior, with a group goal of sharing and discussing these vids and the women in them. and the vids werent porn – they were videos of sex featuring a female member of the defence force, filmed without the female’s knowledge and then circulated via defence email systems with a whole lot of foul commentary that demeans the women filmed.

      Whether or not this conduct is illegal, it would be a legitimate cause to dismiss someone from any workplace let alone the army with all the moral
      highground bullshit it spins about heroism and protection etc.

      Similarly, think the statement that such people would have trouble finding another employer refers to the fact that treating women / colleagues this way should be unacceptable to any employer, not that employers should ordinarily be able to stickybeak in their staff’s private lives.

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