Ward followed the example of his father and older brother and joined the Australian military when he was 16 years old.
‘I was quite naive at that age. I didn’t really have any life experiences, to be really honest. I was taken from quite a comfortable environment into an environment that was very alien from me, so you had to adjust very quickly.’
In the mid-70s, when Ward was finishing his training in Western Australia, he was sexually abused by an instructor. The man pulled Ward close to demonstrate a self-defence technique and groped his genitals. The abuse occurred under the water in a pool so none of the other cadets could see what was happening.
On another occasion when he was on leave, Ward was taken to a ski lodge in Victoria by a superior officer who proceeded to make sexual advances towards him. In a statement provided to the Royal Commission, Ward described himself as being petrified during this experience.
He recalled a lot of physical and emotional abuse as well, a culture of ‘bastardisation’ where new recruits were bashed or severely punished by more senior men. ‘You were at the mercy of the hierarchy. There was no care towards any of us.’
In his statement Ward said he felt constantly under threat during his time in the military and lived in ‘a state of fear’. But in that heavy drinking, alpha male culture, he had to keep his mouth shut. Even during a psychiatric assessment in his late teens, Ward was too frightened and ashamed to report any of the abuse, or his emotional distress.
‘You had to man yourself up and there was no such thing as … if you felt depressed or anxious or any other stuff … any interference stuff, who would you turn to? You couldn’t turn to anybody, it was impossible.
‘I have no idea what the repercussions might have been.’
Despite a lot of pressure from his family, Ward left the military in his early 20s, as soon as he could. ‘I just wanted to get out. It was just far too cruel.
‘My mother and my father, they pushed me into the services to get a good life and basically I came out a completely different person.
‘I entered the [service] and I was nice and healthy and fit, I basically gave my life over to them, and I came out a wreck.’
In the early 2010s, Ward tried to make a report to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce but was told they wouldn’t investigate because he’d missed the cut-off date for complaints.
Ward was shocked by this and, as a result, he’s no longer interested in pursuing his case.
‘I just want to get this over and done with. I don’t want to rehash it anymore.’
But he believes there should be no statute of limitations on sexual abuse in the military because many survivors might not know about the taskforce until too late.
‘I just want to make sure that the ADF takes a really serious understanding of what’s going on here, in terms of the effect it’s had on its past personnel, and not just to brush them aside ...
‘They had a responsibility to look after us. And all the stuff happened, and people knew it happened, but no one said anything about it. I don’t know where the duty of care was there.’
Since his time in the military, Ward has needed medication and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the anxiety and depression that first manifested during his training. There are nightmares when he can sleep and flashbacks to the abuse when he can’t.
Ward also has heart palpitations and other, ongoing medical problems which he believes have shortened his life expectancy.
His mental health has declined significantly in the past year and, just before he spoke to the Royal Commission, Ward had spent time in a clinic.
‘The last few months have been quite horrific’, he said. ‘My family said there’s been a huge change in me, both physically and mentally.’
But while he knows it’s going to be a long journey, Ward is determined to heal. ‘I hope I’m going through it all and coming out as a better person.’