Onus on the Military (Or: Military Secrets)


Image: Manly Village Public School Cadets – 1913

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has very wide terms of reference as to what institutions it will cover. Besides churches, organisations such as the military will be reviewed.

Past examples point to the fact that a certain combination of circumstances will inevitably lead to instances of abuse. Children separated from normal societal scrutiny, with a large power distance from those responsible for them, and a ready acceptance of the institution by society, will always attract the abuser. Things will continue longer if there is the ability to hide the abuse.

The school cadets system and young cadets in the normal military system fulfill these requirements. Therefore, it is wise to look closely at them.

The formal military cadet training system is currently undergoing much criticism because of sexual abuses. A defence Abuse Response Taskforce has been established by the Defence Minister. So far, more than 2,400 claims have been received, and the military has set aside $70 million to fund reparation payments for those found to have been abused.

In an unprecedented move, the National Archives has been instructed to invoke paragraphs 24(2)(b) and 24(2)(c)of the Archives Act 1983, which means that all documents held by the military (even those legally due for destruction), must be retained. Much of this material is anticipated to become available to the Royal Commission.

A recent review called the “Pathway to Change” contains some interesting information (see link below). It notes it has received a “few” reports of child sexual abuse from the school cadets system, but then notes that “it seems unlikely that there were not more such incidents across the long history of the program, with risk factors associated with large numbers of children away on camps for up to 10 days at a time.” It also notes that reported numbers may be smaller than in reality because of a combination of barriers to reporting, and the Defence Department’s focus on its own personnel rather than on volunteers.

The abuses which have come to the review committee’s attention have been “particularly horrific.” It continues that: “It is certain that many boys were subjected to serious sexual and physical assault… from the 1950s through to the 1970s.” It notes that the Defence Department was “no different to State or Church run orphanages” in attracting abusers because of the opportunity for abuse. It concludes that over 80% of cases remain unreported.

Overall, there should be ample scope for the Royal Commission to investigate this sector of society to uncover those who have previously escaped scrutiny. The churches may have had many opportunities and motivations to hide abuse, but the military had the same, or greater, opportunity and motivation. This is particularly so because Freedom of Information laws frequently excuse them from requests for information on dubious grounds such as “national security.”

Cases continue to arise in the media, worldwide. For example, there is the case, in the U.K., of Army Cadets instructor, Peter Cooper, in Harborne, Birmingham. Then there was the case, in the U.S., of a Pendleton County lawsuit saying a mother’s son and daughter were sexually molested while attending summer camps at the U.S. Army Cadet Corps campus at Millersburg.

Recently, in Brisbane, a volunteer Army Cadets instructor was jailed for distributing child pornography. Historically, there was the case, in Australia, of Marist Brother Norbert Mathieson, who was “commanding officer” of the school military cadets. Many abuses of boys as young as 13 years of age have been associated with the Navy’s training facility over decades.

The criteria for opportunity for abuse, identified in the military’s own “Pathway to Change” document, continue to apply to the school cadet program. While no assertions of misconduct are implied about the following example, the astute reader will recognize the potential danger signs.

The James Ruse agricultural high school is a government school which has had a school cadet system since 1961. They conduct several outdoor expeditions each year. Week-end bivouacs are held each term in national parks outside Sydney. Longer annual camps, of 5-8 days duration, are held in further away places such as Fraser Island and wilderness Tasmania. The “officers” of the cadets are teachers, and not Defence Force personnel.

While the military acknowledges that it has tended to focus on cadets under its direct control, rather than through volunteer “officers” (such as in school cadets), this focus should change. Its personnel may not have been the abusers in the school cadet system, but the system did operate under its control, funding and responsibility.

Finally, given that reporting rates for this source of victims has been historically so low, it would be hoped that the military undertakes processes to increase that rate for the Royal Commission.

The onus is on them.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: The NSW enquiry – Session 2, week 2

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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