Melody first signed up to the Australian Air Force Cadet (AAFC) program when she was 13 years old because her mother felt she would benefit from the discipline involved. Neither of them anticipated how much Melody would love being a cadet, and after less than two years she graduated to the rank of corporal. Not long after that Melody progressed further up the ranks to become a leading cadet at a training camp. It was at this camp that she first met Marcus.
Marcus was a member of the Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) and a leader in the AAFC. He was well liked by both staff and cadets alike. Despite his high ranking, Marcus was extremely friendly with the cadets and flirted with the girls, and it wasn’t long before he turned his attention towards Melody. When she attended the gruelling warrant officer course, Marcus was there to encourage her. What started as an easy friendship, however, escalated. As Melody told the Commissioner, ‘I’ve now realised that’s when the grooming all began. He'd be like, "Meet me in the bathrooms. Meet me here. Turn around so I can look at your arse”. Sometimes that was done in front of cadets and now I think of it, I'm like what the hell was I doing? But then I was in a position where I couldn't say no’.
When she was 17, Melody attended a two-week training camp. Marcus, who was also present, began asking Melody to meet him in his room. Because he was a senior officer she felt she couldn’t refuse. Melody met Marcus a few times and they mostly kissed and talked. However, on one occasion Marcus sexually assaulted her and after finishing told her he was engaged to be married the following week.
A few days later, Melody disclosed the abuse to another cadet on the camp, who revealed that she had also been sexually abused by Marcus. Both cadets were too scared to tell anyone, so they did not report it to anyone else until Melody told her ex-boyfriend (also a cadet) while in the process of trying to repair their relationship. Melody’s ex-boyfriend did not respond well to this disclosure, and eventually told his ranking cadet officer.
One night when Melody was staying at her father’s house, her father received a phone call. It was a staff member from the AAFC, calling to ask if Melody had engaged in a sexual relationship with Marcus. Melody was not given any explanation for the phone call nor any counselling or support. Gossip and insinuation followed, which impacted on Melody’s experience at the AAFC.
‘Rumours were spread around about it, so other staff members knew, other cadets knew, and they were all on that detachment, so I felt like I was watched.’
To Melody’s knowledge, Child Services were never informed about the abuse. Although the senior sergeant involved in the internal investigation was a former police officer, it took three weeks before the matter was referred to the police. Initially, when the matter was referred to the police, it was treated like a teenage love affair gone wrong. However when the investigation revealed that a third girl had been abused by Marcus, it was finally taken seriously.
Meanwhile, Melody’s progress through the ranks of the AAFC came to a halt and she was not permitted to attend a further training course, the implication being a sexual encounter might happen again. ‘When I got told that, I'm like, "I'm not in the wrong", like I knew I wasn't in the wrong. "Why the hell am I kind of getting punished?" Like, I felt like I was getting punished. "Don't put her on because this happened; it might happen again”.’
Eventually Melody came into contact with an older female cadet who had had a similar experience and began to support Melody. Through this cadet’s advocacy, Melody was provided with counselling and support, and Marcus became the subject of a criminal proceeding.
‘I think the only positive thing Defence have done out of this is that they're paying for my psych and that's about it. Like, I know it was a bit of a pickle to get into, but I think that's the only positive right thing that has happened - that they're paying for my psych.’
Prior to the abuse, Melody assumed she would have a career with the Airforce one day but this experience has negatively impacted on this dream. ‘I took Cadets off half of last year because I'm like, I have no faith, I have no motivation. Where before I was excited, I was a mentor and I trained kids.’
Melody believes that the culture of the AAFC meant that its reputation was given priority over the safety of cadets. ‘I loved Cadets, like it's made me who I am right now, which is going to crap. Yeah, reputation is what you need, but there's always a few people that can ruin that reputation straightaway.’
‘It's kind of like - I don't want to brag or anything, but I knew that I had a good reputation as well ... But once everyone knew about this incident, I'm like my reputation has been thrown. So I was then scared to go on other detachments and that … It's kind of scary that there's other people above me who have more power than I do developing youth. If they can't find these policies and procedures, how can I trust them to do this?
‘They have always trained us to read the policies, follow the policies. That's me and I've done that and it's like "Why can't you practice what you preach? Why can't you lead by example? That's what a leader is." It's like it's hard to trust staff members in Cadets now.’