Reporting abuse in Defence

From 1 December 2016 the Defence Force Ombudsman’s (DFO) functions were expanded to provide an independent mechanism to report serious abuse in Defence. The DFO is external to Defence.

Reports of abuse can be made by serving and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), in relation to serious abuse which occurred between two (or more) people who were in Defence at the time. This includes ADF members and Australian Public Service employees/contractors deployed overseas in connection with Defence activities.

The Federal Government recently announced that this expanded function will include a reparation payment.

Further details on eligibility for the payment will be announced by the Federal Government in due course. Those who have already reported serious abuse to the DFO since 1 December 2016 will be assessed against those eligibility criteria, once they are finalised.

If you are feeling distressed and need to speak to someone urgently, please call one of the 24-hour support services listed below:

Lifeline: call 13 11 14
beyondblue: call 1300 224 636

How can I make a report of abuse or contact the DFO?

Please use this form to report experiences of serious abuse while employed in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to the Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO). Reports of abuse can be made by serving and former members of the ADF, as well as Australian Public Service employees or contractors deployed overseas in connection with Defence activities.

When you are ready to submit your report, you may email it to us at or you can post it to us at GPO Box 442 Canberra ACT 2601

You can make a report and not provide your personal details. The information in your report can assist in identifying systemic issues or areas of concern in Defence. However, it may be difficult to progress an assessment of your report without certain information, including your identifying details.

If completing this online form causes you any distress, or you would like support, please call the DFO Liaison team on 1300 395 776 9am – 5pm AEST, Monday to Friday (calls from mobile phones at mobile phone rates). Calls that cannot be answered directly will be returned as soon as possible, so please leave a message with your contact details. If you need to speak to someone outside of the hours above, or speak to someone urgently, please call these 24 hour services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) : 1800 011 046

What happens if I make a report of abuse to the DFO?

Our staff are here to support you through the process of making a report of abuse. Your report will remain confidential and will not be shared with Defence or any other agency without your consent.

We can assist you to document your report. We will assess what options may be available and appropriate to respond to your report. Available options may include referring you for counselling. We can also arrange a Restorative Engagement conference, which is a facilitated meeting where you can meet with a member of Defence to have your report of abuse heard and acknowledged. We can also advise on whether your matter should be referred to Defence for further consideration.

Guidelines for dealing with reports of serious abuse

Guidelines for dealing with reports of serious abuse can be found here.

What is a trauma-informed approach to work?

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office), in handling reports of serious abuse within Defence, operates from a trauma-informed service delivery approach. This approach builds on respectful practices and service standards already valued by staff in our Office. The approach recognises how trauma can affect people who have experienced serious abuse in the Australian Defence Force. In particular, it recognises how trauma may affect reportees’ behaviour or communication with our Office in a range of ways. Individuals who have experienced trauma typically find it hard to trust others. For this reason, the Defence Branch Liaison Team work closely with reportees to establish respectful relationships that enhance feelings of safety and trust.

The key principles of a trauma-informed approach are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment.  

Key principles

Safety – physical and emotional

Liaison Officers act as the main point of contact for reportees to help create consistency and work within clear guidelines regarding privacy and confidentiality. Liaison Officers work sensitively to establish a safe and welcoming environment, by remaining calm, courteous and responsive during all contacts with reportees. Liaison Officers work to ensure reportees are given clear explanations about what is happening with their report of abuse and to maintain transparency in regard to all processes.

Trustworthiness – clarity, consistency and interpersonal boundaries

Liaison Officers recognise that trust often develops slowly through consistency of response, by encouraging reasonable, safe and appropriate behaviour, maintaining transparency and ensuring reportees are provided opportunities to give informed consent about matters that affect them. All phone contact with reportees is made in private phone rooms due to the sensitive nature of discussions.

Choice – maximise choice and control

Choice means a focus on involving reportees in the process as much as possible, supporting them to communicate as often, or as little, as they are comfortable with. Reportees are asked their preferred communication method (for example phone, email or posted letter) and whether they prefer a male or female Liaison Officer. Liaison Officers assist and support reportees to consider the available options, which may include counselling and/or the Restorative Engagement Program.

Collaboration – maximise collaboration and sharing of power

Collaboration means treating the reportee as the expert on their life, their trauma and what they believe will improve their quality of life. Liaison Officers work alongside reportees as equals and respect reportees’ preferred pace of disclosure and expressed wishes. Collaboration also requires maintenance of professional boundaries in order to facilitate a healthy, collaborative relationship.

Empowerment – self-determination

A crucial aspect for maximising empowerment is a recognition that the reportee is a survivor of abuse and not simply a victim. Liaison Officers aim to acknowledge reportees’ innate personal strengths, resilience and coping strategies. They also aim to build an understanding of the impact each reportee’s experience has had on their life. Empowerment may involve supporting, encouraging and exploring options to build on reportee’s existing coping mechanisms and life skills.

What does it cost?

Our services are free. There is no cost for counselling services or a Restorative Engagement conference.

What happens to the information I provide in my report of abuse?

All information is treated with confidentiality under the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Privacy Policy. We will not share any information with Defence or any other agency without your consent except when we are required to disclose information under law or to protect the safety of an individual or others.

Records of the former Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) have been transferred to the DFO and are in our possession for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Restorative Engagement Program

One of the responses that might be available to a person who reports serious abuse in the ADF is participation in the OCO’s Restorative Engagement Program.

The program is designed to support you, as a reportee, to tell your personal story of abuse to a senior representative from Defence in a private, facilitated meeting – a Restorative Engagement Conference. The conference also provides the opportunity for Defence to acknowledge and respond to your personal story of abuse.

This fact sheet provides an overview of the process for participating in the program, as well as answering some frequently asked questions about the conference process itself. Download factsheet (pdf) Download Factsheet (MS Word)


Counselling is available to people who report serious abuse to the Defence Force Ombudsman, following an assessment of their matter.  In some circumstances, a counselling referral may occur prior to the outcome of an assessment if a reportee is in urgent need of support.

The Defence Branch Liaison Team will support reportees interested in accessing counselling with the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS).

Please see the Counselling fact sheet for further information. Download fact sheet (pdf) Download fact sheet (MS Word).

Mechanisms within Defence to report abuse

Reports of abuse can be made through various Defence internal mechanisms at:


Reports of Abuse1 to the Defence Force Ombudsman
Reports receivedArmyNavyAirforceCivilian deployeesTo be determinedTotal
ServingFormerServingFormerServingFormerAPS Contractor
December 201629043100524
January 201715120000110
February 20170302010028
March    20172112010029
April 201711221403001345
May 201721311105001345
June 201766041200322
July 201715244400424
August 201702041300212
September 201716220100315
October 201705210100514
November 201715130100516
Cumulative total177212539230057244

1 This function commenced 1 December 2016.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ‘serious abuse’?

‘Serious abuse’ is defined as sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and serious bullying and harassment. All reports will be assessed to determine whether the reported abuse meets this definition.

My report of abuse happened a very long time ago and there were no witnesses. Can I still make a report of abuse?

Yes. We will consider all reports of abuse, no matter how old. We also understand that current or former serving members of Defence may not have records or evidence to prove the abuse occurred. We can accept reports of abuse we consider to be reasonably likely to have occurred.

I complained to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART). Can I also report my abuse to the DFO?

We cannot respond to a report of abuse if it was dealt with by the DART. However, if you have new information you did not report to the DART, we will consider this information. If you contacted the DART after the cut-off date for complaints (31 May 2013) you can make a report of abuse to us. You can also report abuse which occurred after 11 April 2011 to us, even if you had previously reported that abuse to DART.

Can I make a report anonymously?

Yes. You can make a report and not provide your personal details. The information in your report can assist in identifying systemic issues or areas of concern in Defence. However, it may be difficult to progress an assessment of your report without certain information, including your identifying details.

Can I make a report on behalf of someone else?

Yes. The other person will need to complete our Permission for another person to act on my behalf form.

Can the DFO investigate my report of abuse and make a finding?

No. We do not investigate the incident(s) of abuse. However, with your consent we can refer your report to Defence or another agency such as the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service or the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force. These agencies are able to investigate incidents and make findings of guilt or innocence.

I want to make a report of abuse but I also have a complaint about a related administrative matter that I want the DFO to consider investigating. Can I report both?

Yes. We will discuss with you a recommended approach to progressing both issues.