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:
- "Establishing a strategy to change the NZDF’s culture and behaviours to challenge persistent sexism and better integrate women into our Defence Force;
- Increasing training including a sexual ethics and healthy relationships training package, and holding ‘town halls’ across camps and bases to discuss inappropriate sexual behaviour;
- Implementing a restricted disclosure system by 30 June, 2016, to offer an alternative way to report sexual assault;
- Introducing a dedicated, professional sexual assault response team; and,
- Addressing issues associated with specific risk factors including facilities and alcohol.
- 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, Canada, Britain and the United States.
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