The latest audit of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) found that 27% of female students had experienced sexual harassment or assault, compare this to the 67% of female students who’ve had unwanted sexual experiences at civilian universities (from the National Union of Students ‘Talk About It Survey’). This disparity is incredibly alarming given the appalling treatment of women in the armed forces which is seemingly ingrained in the culture of national defence. The audit details the way in which the ADFA has made steps to change the culture of assault in the army; including a residential support program to increase supervision and information to residential cadets, an unacceptable behaviour survey which streamlines the reporting system for leaders and allows for swift action to be taken, and the development of an evidence-based sexual ethics induction program. Of course this is not a complete reflection of the armed forces, it applies only to the training of cadets, however if these important values and knowledge of what constitutes sexual misbehaviour are carried into the defence force by young cadets being trained up by the ADFA then the way forward looks a lot clearer.
Now let’s take a look at the culture of sexual harassment and assault in Australian civilian universities: women are being pressured, bullied and raped during college hazing; slut shaming and victim blaming is profuse; and on-campus safety methods and procedures are inadequate. The truth is that we are being educated in a dangerous environment and the fact that this is not being proactively addressed by our university administrations or our government is a testament to how sexual harassment is seen as an incurable disease of the human population. If this is what we are learning in university then how are we meant to shake that when we leave? We need to develop comprehensive reporting systems, we need to create convincing induction programs, we need to put the onus back onto the perpetrator and support the victim, and we need to do it now.