Support to former Navy members continues

Published on Mr Michael Hughes (author), ABIS Richard Cordell (photographer)

Topic(s): Defence Abuse Response Taskforce

Captain Neville Teague takes part in a practice Restorative Engagement session at Fleet Headquarters, Sydney.  (photo: ABIS Richard Cordell)
Captain Neville Teague takes part in a practice Restorative Engagement session at Fleet Headquarters, Sydney.

As a result of recommendations from the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, members who have been found to have suffered abuse during their service are being given the opportunity to share their stories to senior Defence personnel.

The Restorative Engagement Program provides members with an opportunity to tell Defence their personal account of abuse and relay its impact on their lives. It also provides an opportunity for Defence to acknowledge abuse and harm and to respond to individual cases.

Captain Neville Teague, Chief of Staff at Fleet Command, has attended a number of these conferences and said one of the most confronting stories he heard was from a former junior recruit of HMAS Leeuwin.

“He had been sexually assaulted, subjected to verbal abuse and had threats of retribution made against him should he report any incidents,” Captain Teague said.

“As a result he had absented himself without leave in an attempt to escape the abuse.”

The main takeaway from Captain Teague’s participation has been the critical need to continue cultural reform programs under the Defence-wide Pathway to Change program.

“We need to hold people to account for their failure to lead by example.

"We must never again fail in our responsibilities to recognise and respond to all claims of unacceptable behaviour in whatever form they might occur.”

The abuse in this case caused the respondent to fear for his life and to consider suicide as an alternative to returning to Leeuwin.

“He still cannot sleep through the night and has nightmares which replicate his experiences of hearing senior recruits enter the accommodation blocks, take away another member of his class to the heads or laundry area to abuse and he waited in trepidation as to whether he was next.

“It has caused him long-term fear of bullying in the workplace and made it difficult for him to work in many typically male-orientated workplaces such as mining and construction,” Captain Teague said.

This particular case also clearly showed institutional failures by the department.

“We failed to exercise any duty of care of minors and failed to recognise and respond to personnel who reported abuse and sought help from their superiors.”

Senior leaders, many of whom also suffered the effects of negative culture, have said attending the conferences were critical in understanding how abuse suffered decades before could still bear down on the complainants.

“I have a much greater appreciation of how abuse that occurred more than 40 years ago still has a significant impact on the lives of those that experienced it."

Captain Teague said the conference experience was cathartic for the complainants providing an opportunity to have their story heard and for the Defence representative to facilitate their re-engagement with Defence.

"Despite being abused, individuals still have a range of connections with their former colleagues,” Captain Teague said.

“Some complainants said they read Navy News, attend class or category reunions and lament a Navy life they didn’t get to lead as they had wished to.

“They want to know how the Navy has changed its culture so that the events they experienced are never repeated.

“They also want to know the Navy provides the means and opportunity for people who are subjected to unacceptable behaviour to report incidents and that they will be given a fair and transparent process to have their complaints dealt with.”

See the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) website at http://www.defenceabusetaskforce.gov.au for more information about the restorative engagement process.