Navy brass tells raped cadet: You’re a disgrace
An ex-Navy officer, who claims she was repeatedly raped while serving her country, has accused Defence Chief Angus Campbell of using words that "give a green light to sexual predators".
Midshipman Erin Brown was 17 and full of enthusiasm when she joined the Navy in 2001 - but it took less than a month for her dream job to become her worst nightmare.
"My virginity was taken by a more senior officer from the ship while I was on my first training cruise in Townsville," Ms Brown told the Sunday Telegraph.
Two more "unwanted sexual encounters" with fellow officers at HMAS Creswell on the NSW south coast had her soon believing the "toxic culture of mistreating women" was deeply entrenched.
"After the first time I was raped I tried to report it to a senior officer," Ms Brown said. "His response was that I only had myself to blame. His words: 'you are everything that is wrong with women in defence'.
"He said I was a disgrace, that my father, also ex-Navy, would be disgusted by me, and that if anything else happened I would be kicked out of the Navy.
"It instilled such fear in me that I never spoke up again," she said. "His words did far more damage to my mental health than any of the incidents."
Ms Brown went on to serve in the Persian Gulf after September 11, but the damage was done. After just 12 months in the Navy, she applied for a discharge.
She kept her story to herself for 16 years, only recently telling her close friends and family, and had no intention of going public until General Campbell's words to new recruits on February 24 were "every bit as damaging as the words of my superior".
He told cadets they should not fall victim to the "four As": alcohol, out after midnight, alone and attractive".
Ms Brown said that was "giving a green light to any attacker who finds a victim to whom the 'four As' apply".
During her first attack she said she was "not alone, there was alcohol involved, it was not after midnight, and I would not say I was particularly attractive or dressed provocatively".
"The next incident occurred at HMAS Creswell in my division. I hadn't been drinking, still no more or less attractive, dressed in sweatshirt and pants, was not alone and it was not after midnight. And still I was raped by one of my fellow midshipmen," she said.
"The third incident also occurred in my division, in my room. I was asleep and a male midshipman let himself into my room, climbed into bed with me and raped me while holding his hand over my mouth so I could not scream.
"I was not alone in the division, I had not had any alcohol, was wearing pyjamas and not any more attractive than any other."
Ms Brown, now 37 and living in Townsville, said she realised speaking up would attract public scrutiny, but wants General Campbell to know why his words are "so dangerous".
In an open letter to the General she said: "I lost my dream career, my mental health and my self-confidence. That is what you risk with your irresponsible and unconscionable words.
"Not a day goes by, even after nearly 20 years, that I don't grieve the loss of the career that could have been."
She implored the defence chief to reflect on his words "and choose them more wisely next time".
"You have the power to stop future junior officers from suffering what I, and countless others, have suffered. You have the power to save lives. Please take that responsibility seriously."
General Campbell told the Sunday Telegraph he would personally reply to Ms Brown's letter.
In a statement, he said that he referenced "current events in the media regarding allegations of sexual harassment and assault" in his speech to Australian Defence Force Academy trainee officers.
"In my speech I aimed to ensure that all trainees were aware of how seriously Defence takes these issues," he said.
"Considering incidents that have affected military personnel in my years of service, my intent was to raise awareness and challenge the group to do what they can to mitigate risk and take action if they witness unacceptable behaviour. I am aware that my comments have been interpreted by some in a way that I did not intend.
"There is never an excuse for perpetrating sexual assault or sexual harassment and the perpetrator is always to blame."
Originally published as Navy brass tells raped cadet: You're a disgrace