A former naval officer who claims she was repeatedly raped while serving her country says a senior officer called her a ‘disgrace’ when she reported her alleged abuse.
Erin Brown signed up to the navy as a 17-year-old in 2001, going on to serve as a midshipman in the Persian Gulf after September 11.
But a year later she walked away from her dream job after allegedly being raped three times – and urged by her boss to stay silent.
Midshipman Erin Brown (pictured) claims she was raped three times while serving in the Australian Defence Force between 2001 and 2002
‘My virginity was taken by a more senior officer from the ship while I was on my first training cruise in Townsville,’ Ms Brown told the Sunday Telegraph.
After training, Ms Brown was sent to the HMAS Creswell on the NSW south coast, where she endured two more ‘unwanted sexual encounters’.
On one occasion, a fellow midshipman allegedly entered her room while she was asleep, climbed into her bed and raped her while holding his hand over her mouth so she could not scream.
Ms Brown said she tried to make a report to a senior officer after the first incident.
‘His response was that I only had myself to blame. His words: “You are everything that is wrong with women in defence”,’ Ms Brown said.
‘He said I was a disgrace, that my father, also ex-Navy, would be disgusted by me, and that if anything else happened I would be kicked out of the Navy.’
Ms Brown said his words were far more damaging to her mental health than any of the rapes and instilled such fear in her that she never spoke up again.
She did not share her story with anyone for 16 years until confiding in close friends and family in 2017.
She has now come forward after Australia’s Defence Force chief last week told first year cadets not to become ‘prey’ to rapists by being out late, drunk, alone, and attractive.
Ms Brown said she went to a senior officer after the first incident to report the rape but was told she was a ‘disgrace’ and ‘everything wrong with women in defence’
General Angus Campbell told trainee officers at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra they could avoid sexual predators by being aware of the ‘Four As’ – alcohol, alone, attractive, and being out after midnight.
Ms Brown said Mr Campbell’s words give a green light to sexual predators who find a victim to which the ‘Four A’s’ applies, and that she was not drunk, alone, or dressed provocatively at the times she was attacked.
The now 37-year-old has penned an open letter to Mr Campbell imploring him to choose his words more wisely and to use his power to prevent other cadets from the same suffering she endured.
‘I lost my dream career, my mental health and my self-confidence. That is what you risk with your irresponsible and unconscionable words,’ she wrote.
‘Not a day goes by, even after nearly 20 years, that I don’t grieve the loss of the career that could have been.’
Ms Brown told General Campbell to choose his words more carefully, and remember he had the power to ‘save lives’ by preventing future officers from abusing female colleagues.
General Campbell told Daily Mail Australia he would be personally replying to Ms Brown’s letter.
Mr Campbell’s remarks in his speech to new recruits sparked widespread outrage, and have been condemned by politicians and feminist commentators.
Opposition frontbencher Kristina Keneally, Labor’s deputy Senate leader, told the ABC Mr Campbell’s language was ‘clumsy’ and that implied ‘women are responsible for not being raped’.
Caitlin Roper, spokesperson for feminist activist group Collective Shout said: ‘Appealing to women to change their behaviour is a completely backwards and ineffective approach.
Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell (pictured), told cadets they must be aware of the ‘Four A’s’ – alcohol, alone, attractive, and being out after midnight to avoid being the target of sexual predators
‘It’s not women who are responsible for rape, it’s the men who perpetrate it.
‘[Change] starts by changing men’s attitudes, challenging the notion that women exist for men’s use, that men are entitled to sex, as well as attitudes of casual sexism and disrespect for women, and making it clear that the ADF will not tolerate this behaviour.
‘Even if we accepted the premise that individual women could avoid being raped if they don’t drink, aren’t out late at night, aren’t alone or “too attractive” – which is a flawed premise to begin with – all that accomplishes is ensuring that it is not her who is raped, it’s another woman.
‘It doesn’t actually stop men raping.’
Others called Mr Campbell’s comments ‘vile’ and ‘victim blaming’.
The ADF said in a statement that Mr Campbell’s comments helped cadets stay safe.
‘In his recent address to the new cohort of ADFA trainee officers, the CDF noted matters in the media regarding allegations of sexual harassment and assault,’ the statement read.
‘In his view, being aware of the four As – young, attractive people, noting the entire class fell into this risk factor; alcohol; after midnight; and alone – enabled the group to recognise and mitigate the threat posed by abusive or predatory individuals.
The ADF has been subject of numerous high-profile cases of sexual assault and misconduct over the past decade.
In February a Gold Coast woman who is a former army captain took the ADF to court after a fellow soldier placed his genitals on her head and made racist jokes about running over Asian people in 2017.
General Campbell’s warning to ADF trainees sparked widespread outrage, with his comments condemned by politicians and feminist commentators
In 2016 the The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse heard there was a culture of abuse and secrecy within defence force families.
The royal commission heard ADF cadets were told to ‘suck it up’ after being forced by seniors officers to rape or perform horrific sex acts on one another while others were pushed to suicide.
In a statement supplied to Daily Mail Australia, Mr Campbell further clarified his comments and made it clear he believes ‘the perpetrator is always to blame’.
‘I recently referenced current events in the media regarding allegations of sexual harassment and assault in a speech I gave to Australian Defence Force Academy trainee officers.
‘Considering incidents that have affected military personnel in my years of service, my intent was to raise awareness and challenge the group to do what they can to mitigate risk and take action if they witness unacceptable behaviour.’
‘I am aware that my comments have been interpreted by some in a way that I did not intend. There is never an excuse for perpetrating sexual assault or sexual harassment and the perpetrator is always to blame.’
‘In my speech I reinforced the importance of the trainee cohort coming together to build a community that works in support of everyone, establishes trust in one another, and ultimately for that group to build a strong network of friends and colleagues who look out for each other.’
‘I acknowledge the importance and power of language in addressing systemic inequality and continue to be informed by the experiences of Defence personnel as we seek to ensure that the ADF is a workplace where all personnel can thrive.’