The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a public hearing in June 2016 to examine the experiences of men and women who were sexually abused as children in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Specifically, the Royal Commission inquired into the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse at the following institutions operated by the ADF:
- HMAS Leeuwin in the period 1960 to 1980.
- The Army Apprentice School Balcombe in the period 1970 to 1980.
- ADF Cadets in the period 2000 to present.
At the hearing, the Vice Chief of the ADF made the following statement:
Thank you for the opportunity for me to acknowledge the courage and the strength of the survivors who have come forward and told their story, not only those who have come forward to this Commission but those who have come forward to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce and to Defence more generally.
Your stories are changing the ADF and they have strengthened the resolve of the senior leadership of the ADF to stamp out abuse in all its forms and, in particular, child sexual abuse.
People and systems have failed you and they have put others at risk and that is simply not good enough. I am deeply sorry for what has happened to you. No‐one who pulls on the uniform of this country and no child who is under our care should ever have had happen to them what has happened to you. I would particularly like to acknowledge the partners, the families and the carers of survivors and those who carry the memory of survivors who have passed away. I know you are as impacted by the consequence of abuse as much as the survivor themselves. I know you carry this for many decades and in many cases for your life. I also know that there are many survivors who have told their stories who simply would not be here today without you, and I think your role is not recognised anywhere near enough.
We have made some significant changes to our culture. We needed to. We are trying to move away from the culture that excludes and allows what has happened in the past to a culture that includes. Strangely, the senior leadership has been very publicly criticised for this approach. I want to reassure you that, to a person, we will not be bowed by this criticism and we will continue vigorously to pursue a path where we have a culture that is diverse and inclusive. We will strive to make children's interactions in Defence safe. We will try and build on the thousands of volunteers and Defence members who are committed to that today and are working towards that reality. Your stories are tragic, but they are transformational, and I thank you again for your courage in bringing forward these stories.
In response to the hearing, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) undertook to examine the matters raised. As a consequence the Repatriation Commission and Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission have agreed to changes to policies and procedures for handling claims relating to sexual and physical abuse of minors, including the use of survivor statutory declarations as evidence to establish that an incident of sexual and/or physical abuse occurred.
As a first step, DVA is assessing claims involving sexual or physical abuse of children that either have been held in abeyance pending the outcome of the Royal Commission, or that have been received from individuals who appeared before the Royal Commission.
The second step will be to assess claims involving the sexual or physical abuse of children that have been previously rejected by DVA (where these cases can be identified), to determine whether the Department may now accept claims on the basis that a statutory declaration can be accepted as evidence of an incident
The changes to the policies and procedures for handling claims can be found at the Claims related to sexual and physical abuse page.
DVA can pay for treatment anyone who has ever served in the full-time ADF for five mental health conditions:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- depressive disorder
- anxiety disorder
- alcohol use disorder and
- substance use disorder
The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) is a specialist service that provides free, confidential counselling, case management and group programs to around 20,000 current and former ADF members and their families each year.
Importantly, VVCS is available Australia-wide and accessible 24/7 on 1800 011 046.
Current and former ADF members who may be distressed by the Royal Commission are encouraged to contact VVCS for immediate support.
DVA takes the issue of child sexual abuse very seriously and has put in place arrangements to make sure claims for such abuse are managed with sensitivity.
DVA has a dedicated team that manages all new claims relating to sexual and other forms of abuse. Members of this team have been trained by Phoenix Australia - Centre for Post-traumatic Mental Health.
A social worker provides advice and acts as a single point of contact between clients and claims assessors, where this is the client’s preference.
To apply for compensation, call 133254 (or 1800 555 254 for regional callers), or fill out an online claim form.
Treatment for mental health conditions
DVA can pay for the treatment of five mental health conditions, irrespective of whether the conditions were caused by ADF service. Anyone who has ever served in the full-time ADF may receive treatment for these conditions, regardless of when they served, for how long, or the nature of their service. This is separate to any compensation claim process and does not require that the condition be service related.
Proof of identity and service requirements still need to be satisfied, however, a diagnosis is no longer required prior to being approved for NLHC treatment. Instead, a formal diagnosis must be provided to DVA only within six months of approval, allowing time for a thorough assessment and diagnosis process, and to allow treatment to commence. Once a diagnosis of one of the five NLHC conditions is provided, treatment approval becomes permanent.
- At-Ease portal (mental health information and resources for the veteran and defence communities)
- Royal Commission website into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
- Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)