05 July 2009

Royal Australian Navy sex scandal: RAN Chief should order service-wide sexual harassment training

[UPDATED from 4 July 2009 post]

The Sydney Morning Herald reports here that a group of male Royal Australian Navy sailors kept a record book, and made bets, of how many female sailors onboard the HMAS Success they had sex with. Dollar amounts were placed on female crew with higher amounts for sex with female officers or lesbians. In May, Commander Simon Brown, commanding officer of the HMAS Success, which was underway, sent the sailors back to Australia from Singapore whilst a formal investigation is being conducted.

I'm now starting to have flashbacks of the time period during the U.S. Navy's tailhook scandal. In the early 1990's I was on active duty at the time of that scandal. The American Navy made heaps of mistakes concerning that scandal. The RAN should take a lesson from the American Navy's mistakes in the tailhook scandal. The American Navy sex scandal took place in September of 1991, but the U.S. Navy didn't take corrective action in preventative training of U.S. Naval personnel for nearly a year - well after wide spread media attention and Congressional concerns. I remember that the U.S. Navy Secretary and Chief of Naval Operations required a full day service-wide stand-down training for every officer and enlisted person - but that didn't occur until July of 1992 - almost a year after the sexual harassment scandal.

I call on Vice Admiral Russell Crane, the Chief of RAN, to take a lesson from the mistakes of the U.S. Navy and swiftly order a service-wide stand-down so that sexual harassment training can be given.
The American Navy tailhook scandal had long lasting effects as reported five years later by the New York Times here. Australian VADM Crane has an opportunity early on to take immediate corrective action and to mitigate any lasting effects on the female sailors in the Royal Australian Navy.

The allegations, if true, are of the most serious kind and deserve the Navy brass' full attention. RAN female sailors should not be subjected to this type of degrading and humiliating behaviour. These deplorable actions can cause a break down of good order and discipline. Further, it is not good for esprit de corps of female officers and enlisted personnel. It also can be construed as sexual orientation harassment of lesbian sailors. This behaviour needs to be quickly stamped out of the RAN.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard appeared on Ten Network's Meet the Press this morning and the first question Bill Woods asked concerned the RAN sailors' sex betting book (surprising the first question wasn't on the OzCar scandal otherwise known as "utegate"). "Obviously this is a matter for our defence forces to deal with and to fully investigate," Gillard said to Woods. She further added that "we don't want to see anything that precludes women from having a good career in our armed forces . . . clearly these allegations need to be fully investigated." Meet the Press' transcript of the interview with Gillard can be found here.

RAN does offer training in equity and diversity at its recruit school; and the training does encompass sexual harassment. A Defence press release states that Navy people are briefed regularly on their responsiblity to treat other fairly and know that unacceptable behaviour will be dealth with. But according to Defence Department statistics, in the past two years there have been a total of 102 complaints of sexual offences or harassment in the Navy. In 1997, five female sailors had claimed they put up with years of sexual abuse and assault whilst serving in the RAN.

A 2006 Defence investigation uncovered widespread failure to combat harassment and sexism. That investigation was started by allegations of harassment in sexually explicit remarks made to female reservists. The 2006 report can be found here. Additionally, statistics, which can be found here, show the Navy has had almost triple the amount of unacceptable behaviour complaints filed as compared to the other Australian armed services. There appears to be less accountability and training in the RAN as compared to the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Army. Overall the other services showed a 26 percent decrease in sexual harassment complaints in the years 2005-06 whilst there was a 19 percent increase in workplace bullying.

Late Sunday afternoon the Australian Defence Force issued a statement, which can be found here, regarding the alleged misconduct. VADM Crane said the "Navy is awaiting the results of the [Australian Defence Force Investigative Service] investigation and will act as quickly as possible to address appropriate findings and recommendations particularly should disciplinary or administrative action be warranted." ADFIS is a new agency and officially opened in May 2008 according to a ADF press release here. The ADFIS was created in response to a 2005 Senate inquiry into the military justice system. This high profile investigation will no doubt test the adequacy and sufficiency of how the new investigative agency handles cases.

Whilst it is good that a Defence inquiry is being conduced, in light of these very serious allegations, I must reiterate that a service-wide stand-down for training on sexual harassment should take place in the RAN. VADM Crane should not wait for a Defence investigation to be completed before action is taken. Service-wide sexual harassment training should be conducted immediately. Our female sailors, who serve in uniform to protect and defend our great country, certainly deserve to be protected from this form of degradation.

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