The nation's top military officer has defended telling first-year cadets not to make themselves "prey" to sexual predators by being out late, alone, drunk and "attractive".
Speaking to trainee officers at Canberra's Australian Defence Force Academy, General Angus Campbell urged them to protect themselves by heeding the "Four As" - alcohol, out after midnight, alone and attractive.
Sexual assault support groups criticised the "outdated" comments, but in a statement Defence said General Campbell's comments were intended to help young people starting their careers.
"In his recent address to the new cohort of ADFA trainee officers, the CDF noted matters in the media regarding allegations of sexual harassment and assault," the statement said.
"In his view, being aware of the four As - young attractive people, noting the entire class fell into this risk factor, alcohol, after midnight and alone - enabled the group to recognise and mitigate the threat posed by abusive or predatory individuals."
A female cadet in the new class was shocked by the chief's comments and worried about the culture at the academy.
"It made me uncomfortable," she said.
Experts supporting survivors of sexual assault said the comments were outdated and degrading to women.
The Defence chief reinforced the importance of the trainee cohort coming together to build a community and strong network of friends and colleagues that looked out for each other.
Chrystina Stanford from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre said people overcame many barriers to talk about sexual assault, and the general's comments added to those barriers.
"This sort of message takes us straight back into the depths of victim blaming, which is the most insidious impact of sexual assault," Ms Stanford said.
The comments did not have to be malicious to be harmful, she added.
"I think it sends a really scary message to any group of people or young people, because it flies in the face of the myths that we've worked against for decades."
She said sexual assault was an abuse of power.
"It has nothing to do with where people are, what they look like, how they are dressed, sexual violence happens at any time of the day or night - alcohol isn't the reason sexual assault happened."
Leaders in organisations had a responsibility to educate themselves on these matters, Ms Stanford said.
Karen Hogan, who runs a peak body Centres Against Sexual Assault, said she had not heard sentiments like those from the Defence chief for many years.
"It totally degrades women," Ms Hogan said.
"It fundamentally misunderstands rape and it says there's a power imbalance that men have a right to do what they want, if women do this, none of which is illegal, none of which is wrong.
"Women have a right to live their lives in safety, regardless if they're attractive, alone, drink alcohol or out after midnight."
Numerous reviews have been conducted of the academy's culture and history of sexual assaults by cadets against their colleagues.
Defence's sexual misconduct prevention and response office accepted 125 new support and case management clients in 2019-2020 - a number that has mostly risen each year until the coronavirus pandemic. It's annual report indicates it also has hundreds of managers and commanders reach out for advice on handling incidents in their command.
The office was established as one of the lasting changes from the flurry of reviews following the "Skype incident" in 2011, in which a first year female cadet was filmed without her consent having sex with a male colleague and the footage sent to other cadets. Two men were found guilty of criminal offenses over the incident.
- Defence's Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office (SeMPRO): 1800 736 776
- Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: 02 6247 2525
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