Senior ranks accused in defence sex scandal

By Greg Ansley

In latest blow to efforts to clean up armed services, nearly 100 implicated in degrading emails

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The latest sex scandal to rock the Australian Defence Force has shaken an organisation trying to stamp out an ingrained abusive culture because of the senior ranks held by some of the people allegedly implicated.

These include a lieutenant colonel, majors, warrant officers, sergeants and corporals allegedly exchanging explicit emails of taped sex acts, "degrading and repugnant" pictures and digitally enhanced images of women.

Police sources told Fairfax newspapers that members of the email chains called themselves the "Jedi Council", using defence computer systems now being examined by police and Defence Force investigators.

So far three senior army members have been suspended, five are facing suspension, and about 90 others have been implicated in a scandal that has infuriated the army's top soldier.

"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," Chief of Army General David Morrison said in a warning broadcast to Diggers on YouTube.

"If you're not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters."

The army's announcement of the allegations and the action taken against alleged offenders - some of whom may face jail or sacking from the force - has won praise.

Rather than try to hide or minimise the scandal, as has happened in the past, the army has gone public with the allegations and moved against alleged members of the email chains regardless of their seniority.

But it is a blow to efforts to clean up the Defence Force after a series of debilitating scandals, especially as it has recently opened up most combat roles to females and is trying hard to attract more women into a force struggling with recruitment and retention.

Scandals have regularly erupted since women first served on warships in 1992 and have included abuse, predation, assaults, harassment and lewd initiation rites in all three services.

Two years ago the filming of sex acts by cadets at the Defence Force Academy in Canberra and their broadcast via Skype triggered a series of reviews that uncovered more than 1000 credible claims in what was described as a systemic culture of abuse.

Last year Defence Minister Stephen Smith set up a task force to combat abuse, and new policies have been launched within the ADF in a bid to change attitudes towards women.

But the latest revelations have hit hard.

"This will discourage women from thinking about either joining the army, the air force or the navy, or continuing their career," Smith said.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who conducted one of the reviews ordered after the Skype scandal, told ABC radio the range of people allegedly involved was "abhorrent" and demonstrated the complexities of the problem.

Details of the imagery of the emails have not been disclosed, but they are understood to include tapes of officers having sex and explicit photographs.

Said Morrison: "[The alleged offenders'] conduct, if proven, has not only brought the 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."

- NZ Herald

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