BROTHERS IN HARM
It was an impulsive plan, the abhorrence of which appeared to escape Dylan Deblaquiere in the crudely written text message he sent to his fellow ADFA officer cadet Daniel McDonald.
"I just had a f---ing sick idea pop into my head. F--- her and film it," Deblaquiere wrote one March afternoon in 2011.
The pair didn't know it then, but that text message, and the events that followed, would have cataclysmic consequences for the Australian Defence Force, and for the institution charged with training the military's next batch of leaders.
Their actions would spark a national debate which, at its heart, covered the intersection of two deeper societal issues; the shadowy side to the military's warrior culture, and the confused state of morality and sexuality for young people in the digital world.
Deblaquiere, in his expletive-laden text, was referring to the female cadet known as "Kate", who McDonald had entered a "friends with benefits" arrangement earlier that day.
The pair met up again just before midnight and went to McDonald's room to have consensual sex.
Unbeknown to Kate, McDonald, then 19, had set up a webcam and was secretly streaming vision of the intercourse to a group of friends, including 18-year-old Deblaquiere, in a nearby dorm room.
When she got back to her room, the young cadet opened up her computer and logged onto Facebook. She found a message mistakenly sent to her by McDonald, which read: "Okay, well, I'm about to root a girl [and] have webcam set up to the boys in another room."
She quickly replied, writing "Please tell me I wasn't on webcam?"
McDonald called her, and the victim said he assured her he didn't have a webcam, saying someone else must have written the message as a joke. Kate said she accepted his explanation and went to bed.
But, as Acting Justice John Nield noted on Wednesday, secrets cannot be kept among any group of young men, and the story of what had occurred eventually got out.
The sex, which in itself was a breach of ADFA's non-fraternisation rules, sparked an internal and police investigation, and resulted in McDonald and Deblaquiere being charged under ACT and Commonwealth law. Both were convicted and sentenced to 12-month good behaviour orders in the ACT Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Although both have avoided jail, the Defence Department says McDonald, who remains at the academy and is not currently suspended according to his lawyer, is now facing "administrative action" because of his criminal conviction. That could result in him being kicked out permanently.
Deblaquiere had left the academy before the trial, and is now understood to be studying to become a school teacher in Adelaide. But his conviction is likely to dash those aspirations as well. Both men are considering appealing.
The victim was forced out of the ADF, saying she was bullied from state to state, base to base, after the crime became public. She says her whole world has been shattered by the ordeal, and that she has lost her dream job of being a military officer.
The Skype scandal sparked a public outcry and attracted huge levels of media coverage, the intensity of which was greater than other serious Defence sex cases in recent years. The affair highlighted aspects of military culture that critics say have been deliberately hidden for decades.
Before the incident, Deblaquiere and McDonald, in the words of Nield, had "everything going for them and nothing going against them". They were smart, well-liked, committed, and showed promise as future leaders. Both performed well at high school, and both had childhoods that, despite some adversity, were relatively stable and loving.
McDonald was commended in character references as "polite", "respectful", "mature beyond his years", and as having "excellent leadership qualities", while Deblaquiere was described as "compassionate and considerate", "decent", "caring", "respectful", and as someone with "morals".
Despite these glowing descriptions, McDonald and Deblaquiere committed crimes that have been presented as all that is wrong with the treatment of women at ADFA and in some other quarters of the military.
The Skype episode precipitated a string of reviews and inquiries into Defence culture, including the DLA Piper Review into abuse within Defence and the review by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick released in August.
Ultimately, it led to the establishment of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, designed to assess and respond to individual cases of abuse in Defence.
In November last year, Defence Chief General David Hurley delivered an apology to anyone inside the force who has suffered sexual or other forms of abuse, while Army Chief David Morrison delivered a strongly worded, powerful video to his troops earlier this year telling them to respect women or "get out".
Yet scandals like the Skype affair are nothing new for Defence. Former soldier and Flinders University Defence expert Ben Wadham said the opening of the Royal Military College in 1911 was accompanied by statements saying it would be "no West Point", a reference to bastardisation issues at America's military academy. Those hopes were short-lived. "In 1913, the first scandal hit the Sydney newspapers, and they've had a problem with bastardisation ever since," Wadham said. "There's been scandal after scandal, report after report, and the military have continued to deny its existence."
Wadham believes the ADF's senior leadership has since committed to real cultural change, but questions whether that has been taken up through the ranks. He said ADFA and the broader Defence establishment must acknowledge they are creating the context that enables crimes such as the Skype incident, by instilling the "warrior ethos" and separating cadets from the broader society. The warrior identity, Wadham said, promotes fraternity, team building, and gives cadets the belief they are distinct and different from civilians, with the licence to do whatever they like. "Some of them take it to the nth degree, and it results in this sort of behaviour," he said.
"This is an incident that indicates a side to the military, which the military have not wanted to own up to in the last 100 years or so. It shows the institution needs to become far more aware of the kind of context that it creates for young people."
But aside from issues the Skype affair highlighted within Defence, it has also shown the concerning attitudes and behaviours of young Australians living in the digital age.
In sentencing the pair, Nield said neither had realised what they were doing was a crime. "I suppose that they thought it was a good idea at the time," he said.
The Skype affair, according to one cyber safety expert, illustrates how young Australians are employing a different set of morals and ethics when they are online.
That issue, coupled with the recent explosion of smart phones and tablet devices in Australia, has raised real concerns. Former Australian Federal Police Detective Superintendent and University of Canberra Centre for Internet Safety researcher Nigel Phair said crimes such as the Skype sex scandal could become increasingly common in the near future.
"The reason for that is as more and more of us get online, more and more of us are going to end up doing what was thought of to be a silly act in the first place, but turns out to be a criminal act," he said.
Phair, once the head of the AFP's high-tech crime unit, said the removed nature of the internet meant young Australians failed to act with the same ethics they used elsewhere. He said that led many into unlawful behaviour, sometimes unwittingly.
"That's the problem - people need to act lawfully and ethically online, and realise that the internet is just another public place," he said.
Phair believes that purely dealing with such crimes through the courts is not enough and says a strong education campaign, designed to modify the standards of behaviour online, is needed to get "in front of the curve".
"It is resource-intensive at the front end, but it's the only way you're going to get change," he said.
But in the aftermath of the Skype affair, the immediate spotlight will continue to be on the pledge to change the culture of ADFA. It remains to be seen whether the warrior mentality can be instilled in cadets without creating an environment that enables the types of bastardisation and sexual abuse issues that have long plagued the military.
"I think that's a really important question, a really poignant one, because so much about creating a warrior is based on people seeing themselves in quite territorial ways," Wadham said.
"I think it's about creating a mindset in military leaders and soldiers that they are part of Australian society, that they are here to serve Australian society, and that their training and elitism serves that purpose," he said.
"I don't think that will resolve everything, but I think it's a fundamental point."
It may only be one piece of the puzzle. But it's a piece that may prevent another Skype scandal, and another victim who has her whole world "shattered" in the process.
InvestSMART FORUM: Come and meet the team
We're loading up the van and going on tour from April to June, with events on the NSW central & north coast, the QLD mid-north coast and in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Come and meet the team and take home simple strategies that you can use to build an investment portfolio to weather any storm. Book your spot here.
Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?
Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.Sign up for free