Suspected sexual predators have risen to powerful positions in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with one attaining the rank of colonel, or an equivalent post, documents released under Freedom of Information reveal.
A December 2013 ministerial briefing signed by former defence force chief, General David Hurley, shows what action was being considered to deal with allegations of abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).
In the defence memo General Hurley advised Defence Minister David Johnston that 15 of those suspected of involvement in a series of sexual assaults, known as the ADFA 24 cases, were still serving officers.
ADFA 24 refers to about two dozen largely unresolved cases of rape and other sexual abuse at the Canberra military college in the mid to late 1990s.
Of those 15 suspects General Hurley suggested the most senior was a major or equivalent rank.
However the ABC has confirmed at least four other alleged ADFA 24 offenders now hold the rank of lieutenant colonel, a higher rank than major.
The ministerial briefing also reveals another suspected abuser was a colonel or equivalent rank.
The briefing note echoes concerns first raised in a landmark report into defence abuse by law firm DLA Piper.
That 2011 report warned: “It is possible that male cadets who raped female cadets at ADFA in the late 1990s and other cadets who witnessed such rape and did not intervene, may now be in ‘middle’ to ‘senior’ management positions in the ADF.”
Last month, a former ADFA cadet – now a mid-ranking officer – told Four Corners she was forced to serve alongside a man who she says raped her at the military training institution in the late 1990s.
The ADFA 24 cases are a key focus of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) and these documents provide an insight into the progress of its investigation of those matters.
In a separate November 2013 Defence brief also obtained under Freedom of Information former defence chief Hurley criticised a preliminary ADFA 24 report provided by DART.
The now retired general said the DART report “lacks clarity in certain areas and provides insufficient detail.”
He concluded that the ADFA 24 case summaries compiled by DART were “insufficient to support Defence initiating specific action against individuals”.
“Defence must undertake further work, including obtaining full case materials (rather than summaries) from the Taskforce, and clarifying key issues such as whether the remaining ADFA 24 [victims] agree for Defence to be informed that they have contacted the taskforce,” he said.
General Hurley also claimed that “none of the alleged perpetrators who are currently serving present an immediate threat to Defence personnel”.
The defence abuse taskforce is not an investigative body and will only examine cases lodged by victims.
The cut-off date for filing complaints was originally the end of May 2013, though the ABC understands DART has since accepted testimony from some ADFA victims whose cases were highlighted by Four Corners.
While many victims welcome the reparation payments some feel the scope and reach of the DART process is insufficient.
DART is not taking statements from perpetrators and the information gathered by DART and by the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service will not be used to pursue perpetrators.
Some victims and a number of senior investigators involved in the DART process have told the ABC they believe a Royal Commission is needed to deal with the legacy of abuse in the ranks.
DART is expected to table its report detailing the ADFA abuse cases in Parliament in September.