Alex Casey's story

Alex is a transgender woman who, growing up, was recognised as a boy. At the age of 17, as a boy, she joined the Australian Defence Force (ADF). She wanted a secure future and also to gain the approval of her family.

Within days or weeks of starting, Alex was assaulted by a group of supervising staff. She was bashed and her pants were pulled down. That was the first of many assaults that Alex experienced in this brutal culture. Alex was once forced to put a rifle in her mouth and pretend it was a penis. It was common for recruits to have to show their penises when they lined up to get paid.

On one occasion Alex was bashed and rendered unconscious. When she came to, she realised she had been raped.

On assignment in South East Asia, Alex noticed a commanding officer had a young person in his cabin who people referred to as a sex worker. The child looked about seven or eight years old. Alex’s colleagues used to boast that they’d assaulted and sexually abused the ‘sex workers’ they were with.

‘I saw stuff … that was really bad’, Alex told the Commissioner. ‘I don’t believe people should join the ADF if they have that disrespect for people, vulnerable people … not use it as an excuse to do things that are bad to people who can’t fight back.’

Alex didn’t fit into the violent culture, the ‘pack-like animalistic behaviour’. She didn’t like drinking a lot nor bullying. She refused to be with those that were referred to as sex workers. It was assumed that she was a gay male. At the time Alex didn’t herself know what her sexual orientation was.

It was a long time before Alex recognised that what had happened to her was sexual abuse. When she couldn’t take it any longer, she had to get out. After a year of violence and degradation within the ADF, Alex sought a discharge even though she had passed all her tests and was good at her job.

In her written statement, Alex recounted, ‘I spoke up on many occasions about the abuses perpetrated against me during that time, but the [defence forces] were never open to taking my complaints. I was never encouraged to report the abuse to the police’.

After leaving, Alex didn’t tell anybody what had happened. She felt ashamed and didn’t know what could be done about it. ‘It just sent me into this spiral where I became underemployed, homeless, mentally ill.’ For a time she worked on the streets.

She hasn’t been able to maintain relationships within her family. She doesn’t trust people and intimacy is a problem. She doesn’t make friends because that might mean she would need to disclose the abuse and she fears the response. She is easily triggered and avoids being in groups of men.

Alex said her treatment in the ADF turned her into a liar. ‘Always covering up. Always telling stories. To hide what happened. To hide why I behaved like I did.’

Despite this, Alex didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol. She was determined to stay as fit and healthy as she possibly could. At one point she was holding down a full time job even though she was homeless.

In the mid-2010s, Alex disclosed the abuse for the first time to a counsellor. She felt better once she was able to talk about it, although was still ashamed to do so. She decided against applying for redress through the ADF as it would have meant facing a panel.

She approached the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) to seek advice on accessing medical assistance. In her written statement she recounts their response. ‘The person I spoke to at the RSL was very rude, and asked me, "Are you looking for money or something?" I told him I was in the [ADF] for just over a year, and he scoffed at me and told me he could not help me. He showed me the door.’

Alex never considered reporting the abuse to police. It’s only now that she feels she’s becoming stronger in herself. Because of friends, Alex, now a middle-aged woman living on unemployment benefits, has stable accommodation. She’s also studying.

‘I just survived. I just existed … I’ve always tried to find reasons to keep going. Something good will happen and I’ve just got to find a way to make that good happen.’

As far as the ADF goes, Alex wants the culture to change. She feels internal reviews are ineffective and there should be a safe place where people can report issues when they arise.

‘We hear a lot of the ANZAC spirit. I wish they’d leave all of that and work on the culture now.’

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