Three-year uni study of military abuse culture declares cause before start

A new study investigating the culture behind abuse and bullying in the Australian Defence Force is under way at the University of New South Wales Canberra (UNSW Canberra).

UNSW Canberra researcher James Connor, along with Flinders University Associate Professor Ben Wadham, have been awarded a prestigious Australian Research Discovery Grant to investigate “why and how abuse is fostered in macho, masculine environments like militaries and what we can do to address those cultures and patterns”.

Dr Connor said the research would also have wide-reaching implications for other traditionally male-dominated institutions such as the police and churches.

“The timeliness of this grant is apt, with the release of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse,” Dr Connor said.

“To a larger extent, much of this behaviour is disappearing due to the various cultural reforms that military institutions have engaged in.

“But there are still subsets of men in the military who think ‘the old way’ is the way to do it.”

Dr Connor said this mind set was found across age and rank, and he believed diversity would help address the problem.

“There’s no way we can maintain a military force if we continue to keep it to white men of a particular social class and background,” Dr Connor said.

“That doesn’t represent Australia and it’s not the way you want a military to function.

“Our research will look at the social conditions which foster abusive environments and, for us, that’s these closed, masculine environments which operate in particular ways, and which give you particular conditions for abuse to occur.”

Pilot work has already revealed behavioural patterns that will inform the direction of the three-year research plan.

The research team will be collecting Australian Defence Force abuse survivor testimonies, analysing their experiences and making recommendations about the cultural causes of abuse.

“Military culture has changed considerably over the past 50 years, for the better,” Dr Connor said.

“I hope it will continue to change for the better.

“The key thing is giving voice to survivors of defence abuse, making sense of how and why this happens so that we can facilitate organisational reform in the ADF to make it better.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: Does anyone else feel that Dr Connor already ‘knows’ what the cause is and is now setting off on a three-year ‘study’ to validate his pre-conception and to formulate an outcome to fit his views – or the outcomes desired by the purse-holder?
I welcome and encourage civil comments below and/or on Facebook, but will apply a zero-tolerance deleting policy to profanity or abusive responses




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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

13 thoughts on “Three-year uni study of military abuse culture declares cause before start

  • 03/02/2018 at 10:56 am

    Thanks, yes I agree and have been around long enough to know this is the status quo – these kind of differences. I have had every threat and vilification under the rising sun. Can I just say:

    – looking at white men, or white women, or blue pigs – if they are the main game, they are the main focus of research – you don’t exclude the other bits, and sometimes the anomalies can be influential, but the larger presence and influence is going to be a key focus – 87 per cent men, mostly anglo…

    – looking at white men doesn’t automatically mean this is pathological population – that requires another set of research and analysis…

    I’m a white man of british heritage – and I present as a big white bloke – I’m not fussed by the discourse… My experience in the Army led me to analyse this white maleness… I was perplexed by some its incarnations while serving… Vic Coppers contributed to my questions too.

    thanks and thanks for the link to Facebook sites, what people think is important, either way. The other side of course is the growing membership of the Abuse ESO’s (membership).


    PS Been in this situation before and bounced for ‘going on’…

  • 02/02/2018 at 3:33 pm

    Well, I think the outcome has alreay been penned. And the next ‘theory’ on how to eradicate the abusive culture and integrate diversity into the ADF has also been written and is just waiting to be submitted so “Dr” Cotton and Ben can ride away on their search for Utopia with more taxpayer funds.

    Or you could find some independent researchers without an axe to grind to give some balanceed and unbiased research.

  • 01/02/2018 at 2:52 pm

    I note that the study is about ‘why and how abuse is fostered in macho, masculine environments like militaries..’.
    The focus seems to be on ADF but what is being studied in other non-military ‘macho, masculine environments’ to compare?

    • 04/02/2018 at 3:52 pm

      A Royal Commission (with greater human resources to call upon and lots more money than a couple of academics with a modest research grant) just spent several years researching institutional responses to the sexual abuse of minors within churches, state-run orphanages and so on. The ADF was but one of more than 40 case studies. It simply wouldn’t be feasible for two academics to try to cross the gamut of environments. However, Defence is a particularly valuable entity to study, because it’s an organization funded by taxpayers in the national interest and its personnel are trained to follow orders in the national interest. Those orders include that members are NOT to abuse their peers or subordinates, nor sexually harass them, as sexual violence, bullying and harassment are proven causes of PTSD, anxiety and depression, all of which detriment unit readiness, morale and cohesion. Abuse still happens often enough that SeMPRO produces an annual report on just the sexual abuse alone. It’s an excellent research question as to why some Defence members seem to feel they can pick and choose which orders they’ll follow, and which they’ll ignore.

  • 22/01/2018 at 10:59 am

    This is a perfectly legitimate study undertaken by experts within their respective fields. And yes some of the researchers have served within the ADF. Methods undertaken to ensure unbiased results will apply – as is the case with quality research (they would not have received the grant otherwise).

  • 18/01/2018 at 10:21 am

    It’s worth noting that what he said is a perfectly valid hypothesis. That’s what you do when you start a scientific study. It’s SUPPOSED to sound like you already know what you’ll find.

    “I’ll find proof of XYZ”

    *perform study*

    “I was right” OR “I was wrong”

    It’s not worth getting worked up about what he said. He’ll do the study, and either confirm his hypothesis or prove himself wrong and have to guess again.

  • 17/01/2018 at 4:09 pm

    I hope the level of “abuse” isnt the same measure used for “polite society”, the military is training people to, in some circumstances kill, there is no other organisation that does that. Therefore, the training involved differs when turning civilians into soldiers. Please also note the 90% – 95%+ (I cannot support those numbers but guessing from experience) of soldiers that haven’t suffered any trauma from such training. Again note what the good Dr and his peers rate as trauma/abuse many others dont. Downgrading the training and methods may have a more serious consequence. I served 10+ years and did witness some poor leaders but not a lot of bulling and in many of those cases it was stamped out by JNCOs themselves by self governing, I dont think there is a major problem just big headlines. Where it is found it should be dealt with strictly and I include both physical and mental bulling I just questions the criteria academics are using.

  • 17/01/2018 at 1:54 pm

    Sounds like the good DR Connor has already made his mind up! …I personally do not encourage nor Condon excessive or illegal abuse, but can the good Dr differentiate between verbal and physical conditioning required to become a resilient infantrymen?…… I would have to ask these questions… has the good Dr, or his associates ever served a day in uniform, or will they utilise honestly those that have, in order to understand the hardships to be endured and reselince required? Or will they only use the people with examples of abuse to suit thier preset findings….Does the good Dr, realise that the so called macho closed gate military is in fact, a military force, required to exert controlled violence when required and not comparable to university, the police, or the church….. And does, the Australian Government really need to waste money on this, when there are countless other causes or procurements in defence it could be allotted too!!….. defence has to change and adapt to its social and operating climates, we need the experience of the past and those that went before us to build has always done that, sometimes slowly!! But the Dr has already shown he’s off the mark with his comments…changing the ADFs demographics from a certain group of white males of a certain class????..’s something for your research.. there is a reason the ADF is profoundly all white males…and females. it’s not racist!! It’s because they are predominantly the demographic who through passed down Anglo or European family histories and tradition, and existing cultural patriotism want to serve…others do to, but in very very small numbers, why.. ??…because where thier family historical culture stems from.. you don’t join the Army or police to support the local government, or thier is national service and conscription used, and military service is feared, and not something you volunteer for! they bring that mindset here as family units!!..until you get around that, your demographic will stay the same!!….. To ignore that, and close recruiting to the Anglo male or female who want to enlist…. that’s dumb!

    • 01/02/2018 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I am the Chief Investigator for this project. I served with 2/4 RAR and then as an MP. In both domains I witnessed abuse and criminal behaviour. I have been researching this subject since 2003. While this is controversial subject that can present negative characterizations of the ADF, it is undertaken with a view to improving the ADF and supporting veterans. There is a strong difference between the way the military and military personnel understand diversity, acceptable conduct and strong culture and the way it is understood and talked about in civil society. Any research in this space must make sense of that difference – we need to achieve an authentic understanding of the military and its contexts but also recognize the ways in which broader society understands and responds to the military and its internal violence. I think the conservative journalist Miranda Divine has talked about ADF attempts to manage cultural change as ‘diversity bollocks’. We understand this tension in the military but one overarching question here is ‘what will the ADF look like in 20 years, who will it be recruiting, how will it sustain its itself? The ADF must engage with questions of diversity if it wants to continue to develop a fair, safe and rewarding occupation/profession. We will be talking to 40 survivors of their experiences – the abuse, the scandal and inquiry, the ADF responses and reactions from government and civil society. We will locate these case studies within a historical review of defence inquiries into abuse (sexual harassment, bastardization, hazing) and make and assessment about how organizations respond and manage cultivation of a diverse workforce. I personally very aware, from my time in the ODF, Townsville, that military effectiveness must be retained but its traditions cannot continue to support the sort of prejudice that often shapes tight cohesive units. This is an Australian Research Council grant “The Australian Research Council (ARC) is a Commonwealth entity and advises the Australian Government on research matters, administers the National Competitive Grants Program, a significant component of Australia’s investment in research and development, and has responsibility for Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA).” It is research independent of the ADF or DVA.

      • 01/02/2018 at 12:57 pm

        Hi Ben. Thank you for your input to this discussion. I am pleased with the tone and tenor of the debate (which could easily have descended into Facebook-esk trolling or diversions).
        That said, however, I am yet to be convinced that this study is not biased in favour of an outcome/agenda that seeks to re-shape the ADF to fit a particular look and feel that plays well in ‘polite society’.
        Both you and Dr Connor have said you will interview/talk to a large number of abuse survivors. Neither of you have said you would talk to a similar number of people with ‘opposing’ views, ideas or opinions.
        Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of weeding out the bad eggs too – but if your goal is to stamp out abuse, then stamp out abuse.
        But, as I see it, you, Dr Connor and certain others seem to be hell-bent on Defence-altering cultural change or social engineering to fit a pre-determined agenda, with no plans to examine or consider the consequential impact on the defence of the nation.
        When Dr Conor makes broad brush statements such as “There’s no way we can maintain a military force if we continue to keep it to white men of a particular social class and background”, I believe I and many others have good reason to doubt the impartiality of this study. And that fear is not allayed by your comments.

        • 02/02/2018 at 12:13 pm

          Thanks Brian. There are different ways of making sense of the world and the military both in the military and civil society. As an infantry soldier martial values were very strong, in other areas I worked, this was less important and questions of inclusion and diversity were more accepted and important. In the research we are interested how particular cultures form and how they are maintained. It may invoke an emotional response but objectively (statistically) the ADF is a male dominated and anglo cultural institution. The question is does it need to change? There will be differences of opinion. Globally, the five eye militaries are all working on this. There are millions of dollars being spent on creating systems and processes that are equitable for everyone in the organisation. In the beginning you need to make special inroads to support those groups who are not part of the mainstream culture. Over time that changes. My current approach has developed from that research, and experience in interviews with around 50 veterans and survivors. Those interviews speak to a diversity of responses, but the view that monoculturalism is detrimental to the life of the organisation isn’t really contestable. Like any ecosystem, an organization’s strength and resilience is in its diversity. We don’t know what the survivors will tell us either. Survivors don’t necessarily become culturally aware when they are abused, they may also hold the values you see as important – sometimes more strongly. We are talking to other former members of the ADF that have been associated with particular case studies (they will give diverging views). Re James comment – he is saying something that is well researched and not really contestable in that sense – but I get how it registers as an ‘unrealist civvy view’. But its a straight up realistic view – the ADF is 87 per cent men and only a small proportion are not anglo Australian. Post the end of conscription the ADF doesn’t have the same recruitment pool to work from, it needs to employ people of diversity. As many of the ADF inquiries since 1969 have shown us – abuse occurs where monoculturalism persists. My thinking is that if we reject this, or reject diversity, we are undermining the reason for having a military – to protect the liberal democratic values that underpins being Australian. Is the ADF only there to protect martial values? Would we only be happy if Australia became one big infantry battalion? We know that our job was also to protect those with diverging views – that is the essence of liberalism and freedom of speech. Last point, institutional abuse is a significant issue – the recent Royal Commission showed us that. I don’t mind being seen as a culture warrior if I am contributing to a safer institutional environment. Happy to continue this by email if you don’t want to dominate this space. I am not a member of any polite society.

          • 02/02/2018 at 5:00 pm

            Hi Ben.
            I’m afraid pretty much everything you’ve said just seems to me to be pointing at the white, male makeup of the ADF as the root cause of all its evils. And, as a white male of Celtic (red-blooded) heritage, I’m offended by the implication.
            I think it’s obvious that you and I will not change each other’s minds or opinions – and that’s OK. That’s part and parcel of the fair and free society we both served to protect.
            That said, I’d like to just point out that I seem to be in a vast majority of commenters here and on the corresponding Facebook posts, that agree with the thrust of my original headline.
            So, if you dismiss or fail to consider the essence of all those opinions, in balance with the victim interviews you intend to conduct, are you not in essence proving my point?
            I’m more than happy to continue this discussion in public. Dominating this space is actually my aim/desire (web traffic is a good thing). However, if there’s something you’d like to say but not in public, feel free to write to email me –

            BTW, you can find this topic on Facebook (twice) with far more comments…

            • 02/02/2018 at 5:02 pm

              P.S. I almost forgot to say, thank you – thank you for sticking your neck out here in a public forum. So very many others in your position wouldn’t. So for that I am grateful – indeed honoured.


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