Reporting abuse

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Reporting abuse

Abuse in this context means sexual abuse, serious physical abuse or serious bullying or harassment which occurred between 2 (or more) people who were serving in the Australian Defence Force (Defence) at the time.

If your report of abuse is assessed as being within the Defence Force Ombudsman’s (DFO) jurisdiction, you may nominate to participate in the Ombudsman’s Restorative Engagement Program.

The Ombudsman’s Restorative Engagement Program is designed to support you, as a reportee of abuse, to tell your personal account 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.  More information can be found below.

The DFO also uses reports of abuse to contribute to Defence’s commitment to cultural reform.

The DFO can also assist with a referral to counselling with Open Arms at any time throughout your reporting process.

On this page, you will find details of:

  • how to submit a report of abuse and what to expect after you lodge a report
  • what abuse is within the DFO’s jurisdiction
  • information about our Restorative Engagement Program
  • other ways you can report abuse, and
  • how your information is managed and your rights to access information.

How do I report the abuse?

You can report experiences of abuse while employed by Defence to us in writing by completing our Reporting Abuse in Defence Form:

Your report must be provided in writing using this form.

When you are ready to submit your report, you may email it to us at defenceforce.ombudsman@ombudsman.gov.au or you can post it to us at GPO Box 442 Canberra ACT 2601. You will receive an acknowledgement from our Office soon after the report is received.  This acknowledgement will be sent by email when an email address is provided, otherwise it will be sent by post.

Some factsheets that may be relevant are:

If you are lodging a report of abuse in order to access the Restorative Engagement Program and you previously lodged a report of your abuse to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART), you do not need to complete the Reporting Abuse in Defence form.  Please contact DFO directly by email at defenceforce.ombudsman@ombudsman.gov.au with your details.

If completing the Reporting Abuse in Defence form is causing you difficulty or you would like support, please contact ex-service organisation (ESO) advocates, who can support you through the reporting process.

To find your local ESO advocate to help assist you with the reporting process, please visit: Find an advocate | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)

If you need mental health support, please call these 24-hour services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling: 1800 011 046

What forms of abuse are covered?

The DFO can receive and respond to reports of abuse that has occurred in the Defence at any time in the past. The earliest report of abuse the DFO has received occurred in 1946.

For this purpose, abuse means:

  • sexual abuse
  • serious physical abuse, or
  • serious bullying or harassment

which occurred between 2 (or more) people who were serving members at the time.

‘Member of Defence’ is defined to include a person who was, at the time the abuse occurred, a member of the Australian Defence Force or another person deployed overseas with the Australian Defence Force (whether as an employee or contractor).

The abuse must have a sufficient connection to a person’s employment in Defence for it to be accepted under the DFO abuse reporting function.

Who can make a report of abuse?

We can receive reports of abuse from:

  • serving members of Defence
  • former members of Defence
  • Australian Public Service employees (or contractors), if the abuse occurred while deployed overseas in connection with Defence activities.

There is no need to have reported the matter to Defence before coming to us.

You can report experiences of abuse to us without legal representation. Alternatively, someone else can make a report of abuse on your behalf, but you will need to authorise them to act on your behalf by completing our Permission for another person to act on my behalf form. Please see our Nominating another person to act on behalf of a reportee Fact Sheet for more information.

If you require support filling out your report, please contact your local ex-service organisation (ESO) advocate. ESO advocates are experienced in both Defence matters and completion of these reports.

To find your local ESO advocate to help assist you with the reporting process, please visit: Find an advocate | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)

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. But we will need certain information, including your identifying details, to progress an assessment of your report. We will also need your consent to share some information with Defence to progress an assessment.

What happens when I make a report of abuse?

We will conduct a thorough assessment of each individual report of abuse we receive. We can accept reports where we are satisfied:

  • the report is abuse
  • the abuse is reasonably likely to have occurred
  • you were, at the time of the alleged abuse, a serving member of Defence
  • the alleged abuser was a serving member of Defence
  • there is a connection between the alleged abuse and your employment in Defence.

For reports of abuse made to the DFO either:

  • on or before 30 June 2022,
  • or on or before 30 June 2023 where a written intent to report abuse was lodged with our office on or before 30 June 2022,

the DFO has a limited power to recommend that Defence make reparation payments to the victims of such abuse. However, new reports of Defence abuse are no longer eligible for a reparation payment. These timeframes are legislated in the Ombudsman Regulations 2017. The DFO does not have any discretion to change or provide any exemptions to this timeframe.

What we take into account when assessing reparation payments is covered in the Discretionary Recommendation Power fact sheet.

After we have assessed your report, we will advise you whether we have accepted your report. We will tell you what options may be available and appropriate to respond to your report.

Timeframes for deciding reports of abuse

When you make a report of abuse, how long the assessment process takes will vary depending on the nature and extent of the report, and the information provided. It may also depend on which era the abuse occurred in, what service it pertains to, and whether external parties were involved.

Please note our assessment could take in excess of 18 months. This timeframe includes seeking information from Defence required to progress our assessment.

Review process

If part or all of your report of abuse is out of the DFO’s jurisdiction to take further action, you can request a review of the preliminary view.  A request for a review should be submitted within 28 days of the Ombudsman’s decision being made. This should include additional information about the abuse you experienced. Should you require more time you are able to request an extension past 28 days.

More information on review processes can be found in the Defence Abuse Review Processes Fact Sheet.

Restorative Engagement Program

If your report of abuse is accepted as being within the DFO’s jurisdiction, you may choose to participate in the Office’s Restorative Engagement Program.

This program is designed to support you, as a reportee of abuse, to tell your personal story of abuse to a senior representative from Defence in a safe, 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.

For more information, please read our Restorative Engagement Fact Sheet which provides an overview of the process for those thinking of participating in the program.

Reportees are able to nominate a support person to enhance the process and provide support throughout their engagement in the program.  Read our Support Person Fact Sheet (PDF) for more information.

Counselling

You can request a referral to Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling which we will process as promptly as possible. Please contact the DFO directly by email at defenceforce.ombudsman@ombudsman.gov.au with your request.

Other ways to report abuse

Reports of abuse can also be made internally within Defence. An overview of the various Defence internal mechanisms can be found at: https://www.defence.gov.au/about/complaints-incident-reporting/unacceptable-behaviour.

If you experienced sexual abuse and were under the age of 18 years at the time, you may be eligible for a reparation payment from the National Redress Scheme.  Please see the National Redress Scheme website at www.nationalredress.gov.au for more details or contact Knowmore (https://knowmore.org.au/) which provides free advice and assistance with the National Redress Scheme.

What happens to the information I provide in my report?

We treat all information confidentially in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

We will share your name and Part B of your report of abuse form with Defence in order to confirm your record of service and to obtain other information relevant to the report.  We will only do this with your written consent (incorporated into Part A of the report of abuse form). You may withdraw your consent at any time and we will stop taking further action. All of your personal information will be kept confidential by Defence.

We will not share any information with any other agency without your consent, except when we need to disclose information under law, or to protect the safety of an individual or others.

How do I request copies of my information?

Records relating to Defence abuse – administrative access scheme (the scheme)

About the scheme

This is an administrative access scheme for the release of documents held by our Office relating to its DFO functions, and specifically reports of abuse within Defence. The scheme design helps the release of documents, in response to a specific request, outside the formal process set out in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).

Records of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) have been transferred to the Office and are in the possession of the Office for the purposes of the FOI Act and can also be requested under this scheme.

The purpose of this scheme is to deal with requests that could also be made under the FOI Act.

Accessing documents through the scheme

A person who reported Defence abuse to our Office or the DART may request access to documents held by our Office, which contain the personal information of the person who reported the abuse.

We may not give access to documents or parts of those documents where access would not be required under the FOI Act. For example, personal information of a third party will be deleted, as will any information which would damage national security.

The scheme's procedures

How to make a request

To request access to documents under the administrative access scheme contact:

Information.Access@ombudsman.gov.au, or

Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442 
Canberra ACT 2601

The request should:

  • clearly state the documents which you are requesting
  • provide your contact details (including an email address if available). If you are making a request on behalf of someone else, include that person’s written, signed consent.

Timeframes

We will deal with requests by reportees for access to their own information within 30 business days of receiving the request.

Referral to FOI process in appropriate cases

A request will be initially considered to determine whether it is appropriate to be dealt with under the administrative access scheme. If it would be more appropriate for the request to be dealt with under the FOI Act, the person requesting the information will be notified of this and of the Freedom of Information process within seven days of receiving the request.

Proof of Identity

We require proof of the requestor's identity before we can grant access to any documents. A copy of a photographic identification document, such as a driver’s license, will be enough.

Form of access

Unless otherwise requested, we will give access electronically to the relevant documents. You can request for access in another form, such as paper form.

Charges

There is no charge for the costs associated with providing access to documents under the scheme.

Requests for access to documents under the FOI Act

Any person who makes a request for access under the administrative access scheme is also entitled to make an application to the Office for access to documents under the FOI Act. A person can choose to make a FOI request rather than seek access via this scheme.

You can get information about making a FOI request from our website. You can lodge a request via the contact details below:

Information.Access@ombudsman.gov.au, or

Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman 
GPO Box 442 
Canberra ACT 2601

Your rights under Freedom of Information

The FOI Act gives any person the right to:

  • seek access to documents
  • ask for further information about them in documents to be changed or annotated if it is incomplete, out of date, incorrect or misleading
  • seek a review of the decision not to allow access to a document or not to amend your personal record.

You can ask under the FOI Act to see any DART document that is held in the Office’s record storage facilities. Access can be refused to documents or parts of documents that are exempt. Exempt documents may include those containing personal information about someone else, where disclosure would be unreasonable and contrary to the public interest, documents containing material obtained in confidence or other matters set out in the FOI Act.

In addition, the National Redress Scheme (NRS) (www.nationalredress.gov.au) sends requests for information (RFI) to Defence. In response to the NRS request, Defence contacts our Office, as custodian of the DART records and in relation to our reporting abuse function, to request advice about the following:

  1. whether a person was a complainant to the DART,
  2. if they received a payment from the DART, and if so, when the payment was made and for what amount,
  3. details about the reported conduct (ie sexual abuse), and
  4. we also confirm if a person has lodged a report of abuse with our office.

Statistics

You can find the current ‘Reporting abuse in Defence’ statistics below:

Reporting abuse in Defence statistics – 30 April 2024 (PDF)

Forms, Factsheets and FAQs

Please see our Fact Sheets and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about reporting abuse in Defence.