The latest Defence scandal has prompted calls for a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct, with experts suggesting that ingrained sexism in the Army may be worse than first thought.
The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, has revealed that three personnel had been stood down over a series of explicit and offensive emails that degrade women.
A further five personnel are facing suspension and nine others are being investigated, with around 90 more people implicated in the emails.
On Thursday night Lt Gen Morrison told 7.30 he has been in contact with several of the women targeted by the emails to apologise.
- Three senior Army personnel suspended, five facing suspension and nine under investigation.
- 90 people implicated over the emails, which contained explicit and offensive images and text.
- Women at the centre of the emails are angry and concerned.
- Email scandal said to be worse than the Skype incident due to the seniority of the staff involved.
- Incidents occurred during the investigation of sexism and sexual abuse within Defence Force.
"There are victims of this group's alleged behaviour who have been denigrated in different ways," he said.
"Some through texts, some through distortion of imagery, some through the distribution of material without consent."
Defence Minister Stephen Smith says the Army should take a zero-tolerance approach to the misconduct.
Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, made a similar recommendation when she investigated the culture of sexism in the Defence Force less than a year ago.
The email scandal involves a Lieutenant Colonel, majors, warrant officers, sergeants and corporals.
Ms Broderick says she is appalled at the range of people implicated.
"That's what's so abhorrent about it and it also shows the complexity of the issues that have to be solved," she said.
"Because this is just not a particular rank who are all coming together, it's across from senior officers - Lieutenant Colonel - right through to general enlistment."
Culture of sexually objectifying women
Dr Ben Wadham spent five years in the Australian Defence Force and is now a sociologist at Flinders University.
Dr Wadham, a former infantryman, says the use of images to denigrate women is a long-standing tradition in the Australian Defence Forces, but he says the involvement of senior personnel shows the problem may be much worse than previously thought.
"My own experience of being involved in Facebook groups, watching soldiers engage in this sort of behaviour... younger soldiers and... soldiers of different ranks, and the kinds of imagery - the kinds of words and meanings and names and things which come out - are often quite extreme," he said.
"This is a case of quite senior officers over a long period of time and we've just got to ask the question, when will military culture get this right?"
Dr Wadham says the senior ranks of those involved shows that sexism is not confined to young members of the Defence Force.
"I think it also highlights many of the excuses that the Australian Defence Force has used over the past don't hold water," he said.
"In the past, we've blamed it on young men. We've said that this is the sort of behaviour we see in broader society, even in universities. Well, here's an example of a very entrenched culture, a predatory culture amongst a group of men sexually objectifying women."
Lt Gen Morrison was at a loss when he was asked to explain why the poor behaviour persists in the Defence Force.
"I don't have one. I can't be more honest with you than that. I can't put a theory on it. I certainly can't find an easy switch to flick to turn it off," he said.
"I suspect that it's rooted in part in human nature, but that's no excuse either. It's on me. I'm responsible for this, I'm the Chief of the Australian Army.
"This is a setback, but I'm going to pick myself up, use it in conversations with the workforce of Army, reflect on where things have gone wrong and try and put them right."
'Backwards step' for women in defence
The email scandal comes as the Defence Force tries to recover from the 2011 Skype incident, in which a female ADFA cadet was unknowingly broadcast having consensual sex on camera.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told Fairfax radio the allegations are very disappointing.
"A lot of work has gone into changing the culture in the Army to make it embracive of women. I'm very disappointed, I'm very concerned and clearly the material here is repugnant," she said.
Mr Smith says the latest scandal will damage the reputation of the Army and have a real impact in the ranks of the entire Defence Force.
"To the Army to the Air Force and Navy, the service chiefs, all of whom are seeking to encourage more women to join, this is a backwards step," he said.
"This will discourage women from thinking about either joining the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, or continuing their career," he said.
Lt Gen Morrison says he would still encourage women to join the Army.
"I would say the Army workplace environment will provide challenges for you because we are yet to deal completely with the issues that confront many other workplaces in Australian society in terms of employment for women," he said.
"But I got to tell you the hundreds of thousands of women who are part of our Army are doing an extraordinary job."
Army scandal - experience levels
Those suspended or under investigation include commissioned and non-commissioned officers with years of experience and in dozens or in some cases hundreds of soldiers under their command.
|Rank||Status||Level of Experience|
|Lieutenant-Colonel||Commissioned officer||More than a decade of service. Usually in command of units of up to 650 soldiers and responsible for unit's military capability. Highest of the non-senior ranks.|
|Major||Commissioned officer||Usually between eight and 10 years service. Command a sub-unit (a company, squadron or battery) of 120 soldiers. Also employed in HQ staff roles.|
|Captain||Commissioned officer||Usually between three and eight years experience and 2IC of a sub-unit of 120 soldiers.|
|Warrant Officer||Non-commissioned||A Class One officer is senior adviser to a unit commanding officer, responsible for discipline of up to 650 officers and soldiers. Typically has 18 years of service.|
|Corporal||Non-commissioned||Usually six to eight years service. Command of small group of soldiers. Can be used as instructors to train junior soldiers.|