NZ Defence Force launches action plan to address harmful sexual behaviour

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The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has announced Operation RESPECT, an action plan to address harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour in the NZDF.

The action plan draws on several different reviews. The report Maximising Opportunities for Military Women in the NZDF (Ministry of Defence, 2014) looked at the treatment of women in the defence force. The review found that women continue to experience bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating said "As a Defence Force we responded with new approaches to recruiting, retaining and supporting our women in uniform. But we knew that work wouldn't be complete until we had also confronted our underlying culture and its implication for women's success and safety."

The NZDF has now also released a review of Air Force culture by Kim McGregor and Russell Smith (2015). This report indicated that a number of changes were needed to address sexual violence in the defence force. The review interviewed 23 people and identified a number of serious issues including:

  • Long‐held and widespread sexist attitudes and ongoing gross and derogatory sexist comments directed towards women
  • An inability to fully differentiate between harmful and consensual sexual behaviour
  • Some women reported that allegations of harassment were handled swiftly and successfully through their chain of command. However, others stated that they did not report offences because they did not think that they would be believed, or treated seriously. Some participants reported that the lack of action to appropriately manage alleged incidents allowed harmful behaviour to continue and escalate over time and sometimes resulted in more women being harmed.

This findings and recommendations of this review, along with previous reports, led to the development of Operation RESPECT. Operation RESPECT has six key action areas:

  1. "Establishing a strategy to change the NZDF’s culture and behaviours to challenge persistent sexism and better integrate women into our Defence Force;
  2. Increasing training including a sexual ethics and healthy relationships training package, and holding ‘town halls’ across camps and bases to discuss inappropriate sexual behaviour;
  3. Implementing a restricted disclosure system by 30 June, 2016, to offer an alternative way to report sexual assault;
  4. Introducing a dedicated, professional sexual assault response team; and,
  5. Addressing issues associated with specific risk factors including facilities and alcohol.
  6. Increasing the percentage of women in our armed forces, and the representation of women in senior leadership roles; [sic]"

Lieutenant General Keating, said "The intent of the Operation RESPECT Action Plan is that it will assist the NZDF to improve its culture of dignity and respect for all personnel."

A woman who experienced sexual abuse from her father who was in the military, welcomed the changes but said she wanted them to go further, including an independent body to which sexual crimes could be reported. "I don't think that the New Zealand Defence Force should be investigating crimes by the New Zealand Defence Force," she said. 

National Survivor Advocate Louise Nicholas welcomed the action plan.

Te Ohaakii a Hine - National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST) also welcomed the initiative. Sandz Peipi, Kaitakawaenga o Nga Kaitiaki Mauri, said, "These strategies are long overdue. It is a shame that this county has somewhat fell behind the rest of the commonwealth with regards to recognition of this."

Work to address sexual assault and other abuse in the military is underway in Australia, CanadaBritain and the United States.

Selected media

Navy rape survivor hails Defence Force promise to talk first with victims, rather than fighting them through the courts, Stuff, 04.12.2018

NZDF sex offender's daughter hits out at legal system, Newshub, 24.11.2018

Alison Mau: When the Defence Force darling of the diversity speakers circuit suddenly has nothing to say, Stuff, 20.11.2018

Minister cautions Defence Force against 'unreasonably' chasing sex victim for costs, Stuff, 19.11.2018

Air Force inquiry head slates courts' treatment of sex attack victims, Stuff, 18.11.2018

Ogled, groped and locked in a cage: Air Force servicewoman speaks out against Defence Force for 'protecting' rapist, Stuff, 18.11.2018

Air Force sex predator continues to brutalise servicewoman, from behind bars, Stuff, 18.11.2018

Defence Force ramps up efforts to deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour and drugs misuse, Stuff, 08.11.2018

Claims of toxic masculinity in the military, Newstalk ZB, 26.10.2018

Judgment: M v Roper and Anor, Press Release: New Zealand High Court, Scoop, 06.09.2018

Woman who sued the Crown and Robert Roper for alleged abuse loses case, Stuff, 05.09.2018

No compensation for victim of convicted Defence Force sergeant 'groper Roper', NZ Herald, 05.09.2018

Appeal dismissed to hear Navy rape claims, NZ Herald, 13.08.2018

Alleged Navy rape victim Hayley Young loses appeal to have UK government case heard in NZ, Stuff, 13.08.2018

Former sailor loses appeal over allegations made against UK military, Radio NZ, 08.13.2018

Rape complainant at military base told she broke rules, NZ Herald, 04.08.2018

#MeToo and more generous support for sexual abuse survivors lead to spike in people seeking help, NZ Herald, 30.07.2018

Defence Force reminds recruits of military's expectations, Radio NZ, 28.07.2018

Waiouru Military Camp's misconduct allegations: Army chief 'bitterly disappointed', Radio NZ, 26.07.2018

Exclusive: NZ Defence Force paid out $570k on settling staff complaints, Newshub, 26.07.2018

Military staff stood down amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour, Radio NZ, 25.07.2018

Allegations of sexual contact between recruits and instructors at NZ Defence Force training centre, NZ Herald, 25.07.2018

'Highly sensitive' army investigation includes recruit sex claims, Stuff, 25.07.2018

Appeal Court to decide where allegations of rape and abuse in the Navy should be heard, Stuff, 14.03.2018

Abused naval officer entitled to compensation for her suffering, lawyer says, Stuff, 13.03.2018

Defence Leaders Commit to Reducing Sexual Violence,

Review finds 'culture of sexism' in Air Force, NZ Herald, 16.03.2016

Defence aims to tackle 'sexist' culture, Radio NZ, 16.03.2016

Defence Force admits problem with sexism, Newshub, 16.03.2016

New report shows "persistent" sexism, abuse concerns in military, Stuff, 15.03.2016

Defence initiative tackles harmful sexual behaviours, Newstalk ZB staff, 15.03.2016

Defence Force promises new strategies to deal with sexist culture and behaviour, One News, 15.03.2016

NZ Defence Force commended for challenging its own culture, Press Release: Human Rights Commission, 15.03.2016

Minister welcomes NZDF approach to address culture, Press Release: NZ Government, Scoop, 15.03.2016