HMAS Cerberus: The dark history of abuse the ADF doesn’t want you to hear

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Since the Skype sex scandal in April 2011 where a female cadet was filmed having sex with a coworker without her permission or knowledge, countless stories have emerged of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Of the 111 people who came forward to the Royal Commission, 50 were related to child sexual abuse at HMAS Leeuwin or the Balcombe Army Apprentice School in Victoria.

26 were related to child sexual abuse within the ADF Cadets.

More than 30 people shared allegations of sexual abuse at other ADF establishments including at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Puckapunyal army base, the Royal Australian Air Force base in Wagga Wagga, and of course, HMAS Cerberus. 

Cadets were encouraged to keep their mouths shut – but the floodgates were opened with the Royal Commission. 

In this article, we explore the horrendous history of abuse at the HMAS Cerberus training centre in Victoria and encourage survivors of ADF abuse to come forward and seek help with Kelso Lawyers.

Former HMAS Cerberus recruit denied abuse-related PTSD treatment by Department of Veterans Affairs 

former hmas Cerberus cadet aaron frazer

Image: ABC News

The impact of abuse is long-lasting and, when revisited, can often be retraumatising. However, when former Australian Navy recruit, Aaron Frazer, sought help from the Department of Veteran Affairs for PTSD treatment, he was denied. 

Aaron was raped while training at the Australian Navy’s HMAS Cerberus recruit school in Melbourne in 2007.

According to Aaron, he had forgotten to tuck his shirt into his trousers properly and everyone in his dormitory was reprimanded by superiors. As payback, two of his roommates orally raped him, while four others cheered them on and filmed the assault on their phones.

“They were angry at me, so it was basically payback for me getting in trouble, which got them in trouble,” Aaron said. 

“They basically locked me in there, got their mobile phones out and that was it… My head was getting bashed into the side of the locker and they just thought it was all funny.” 

Following the assault, Aaron ran to the Cerberus medical centre, rather than civilian police. He told them what happened, but he was assured the photos and videos had been deleted without any proof.

He was not given a chance to make a formal complaint or statement. 

Four years later, the ADF Skype Scandal occurred and the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) was established to investigate and address hundreds of allegations of abuse. 

DART sent Aaron a letter recognising the abuse and offered him $50,000 in reparations. It claimed the two offenders involved were charged, convicted, and their convictions were upheld.

Aaron gave the whole $50,000 away.

“I still don’t agree with them paying out the money, I think it’s hush money, bribe money, whatever you want to call it, blood money,” Aaron said.

Aaron’s father, who has been in the Australian Navy for more than 30 years, also stated:

“I think it’s just arse-covering, to put it quite bluntly; I think it’s arse-covering by someone not wanting to appear as if they’re not doing their job properly.” 

Aaron sought treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, in 2014, the DVA said there was not enough evidence that the incident occurred – despite two offenders being charged and found guilty of sexual assault.

The DVA stated there were discrepancies between stories of what happened that night. The DVA also claimed he did not finish his recruit training. It was due to end two weeks after the sexual assault.

Since then, the Navy Commodore has provided a formal apology to Aaron, while the Minister for Veteran Affairs refuses to comment.

For Aaron, the challenge has been to speak out and seek help for his smoking and drinking problems. 

“All I want is treatment – it’s not about liability, it’s just simply and purely treatment. They will just not give it to me.”

Aaron is now taking medication for his PTSD – however, he is disappointed because he always sought the Navy as a career for himself, just like his dad. 

“Work hard, play hard” culture: Alleged rapist claims he filmed exploits to “be accepted” by his peers

In 2011, Former Navy Cadet Keith Calvert was jailed for digitally raping a fellow cadet while she slept in 2009. He filmed it on his mobile phone and gave the camera a thumbs up in the middle of the assault. 

On trial, he told the court he did it to be accepted by his peers.

Keith’s lawyer told the court that bragging about sexual exploits and filming them was rife at HMAS Cerberus. He also said there was a “work hard, play hard” culture and the sailors would drink heavily.

“There was a culture of…  bragging and sexual exploits that extended to revealing one’s exploits by way of mobile phone footage. Keith was desperate to fit into the navy lifestyle, and he embraced it wholeheartedly.”

The female cadet didn’t know the rape had occurred until she saw the footage some months later. 

Keith was released from prison in 2013. The case went to retrial because there was some misinformation about where the abuse occurred, whether or not the victim was sleeping, and whether or not she consented.

Female sailor accused of pinching her colleague – but was it an act of retaliation?

HMAS Cerberus cadet leaving court

Image: 9 News

The tradition of “hazing” is rife within the ADF. Even in 2017, a female sailor named Hannah Clayton was accused of assaulting a fellow sailor, Jarrad Pluckrose, after a training session at HMAS Cerberus. 

Jarrad claimed Hannah pinched his nipples and slapped him on the behind. He claimed it was a “five out of 10” in terms of pain.

In court, Hannah claimed she had “no recollection” of the pinching incident and claimed the slap on the behind was “unintentional” and actually “on the outer thigh”.

It could have been retaliation. Hannah also claimed the allegations only came to light after she made her own complaint about Jarrad and his friend, Connor Coleman.

She claimed the men tried kicking over the chair she was sitting in and tripped her up while marching. The man also allegedly pulled her hair, called her “baby”, and demanded she call them “daddy”

She said the harassment got so bad Jarrad tried to trick her into his car for sex and suggested she get a tattoo of his penis on her leg.

“I’d ask them to stop, and that got me nowhere. Other times, I went along with it hoping they’d get bored… Then I got a bit firmer with the ‘stop’.”

Both Jarrad and Connor were suspended after Hannah made the complaint. 

Six months later, Hannah was in court for pinching Jarrad.

17-year-old employee sexually assaulted at HMAS Cerberus training centre

Hannah wasn’t the only woman to be harassed at the HMAS Cerberus training base. A woman known as “Claire” was the victim of a gang rape when she was 17-year-old at the HMAS Cerberus Navy Base in Victoria in 1996.

Claire was a trainee cook and had spent the evening drinking with friends who had brought alcohol to the base. As she was leaving, she was hauled into a male colleague’s room and sexually assaulted by three men in front of onlookers watching through an open door.

Claire said naval police who interviewed her the next morning pressured her to say the sex was consensual.

To this day, the incident is being investigated.

Junior female officer assaulted during HMAS Cerberus dinner 

The Sexual Crimes Squad of the Victoria Police has also been investigating allegations of a sexual assault of a junior female officer at the HMAS Cerberus training base in 1982. 

The female officer was taking a course at HMAS Cerberus when she was assaulted during a mess dinner between March and June that year. It is believed a steward who was working that night entered her sleeping quarters in the Gunroom and assaulted her.

Police have been investigating the incident since 2013, but have had trouble establishing the exact day.

The matter was reported to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) which was established to investigate allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse within the Defence forces.

It’s believed the offender was a Seaman Steward or Able Seaman Steward in rank and was working in the Gunroom at the time.

Anyone with any information about the incident or the identity of the man responsible is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.crimestoppersvic.com.au

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman will be taking reports and making reparation payments until 30th of June 2022 

DART was set up to provide support and reparation payments to members of the ADF. However, most cadets didn’t even know DART existed and did not have the chance to report their abuse before the cut-off date in May 2013.

Thousands of abuse victims could have been left unheard.

To make up for this, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (in the defence jurisdiction) will receive reports of contemporary and historic abuse within the Australian Defence Force until the 30th of June 2022.

The Defence Ombudsman also has jurisdiction to make recommendations for reparation payments of up to $50,000 for “the most serious forms of abuse”.

As of February 2020:

  • The Ombudsman had received 1,366 reports of abuse
  • 1,073 reports had been assessed and 887 were found to be within the jurisdiction
  • 563 reports involved sexual abuse
  • There were 55 referrals to Open Arms for counseling
  • There were 97 restorative engagement conferences
  • 639 reparation payments had been made totaling $26,450,000
  • Males made up 75% of applicants 
  • 82% of applicants were former members, while 16% were still serving.

Time is running out for victims of ADF abuse, but we’re here to help streamline the process and ensure your voice is heard.

At Kelso Lawyers, we’ve represented multiple members of the ADF who survived horrendous hazing and abuse. We have an intimate understanding of the ADF culture and what needs to be done to ensure you get the reparation payments you deserve.

Before applying for the National Redress Scheme or contacting the Ombudsman, get in touch with Kelso Lawyers. We can help achieve the best possible result for you.

Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.  

Image: Navy Recognition