On June 12, 2013, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, Chief of Army, sent a message to the Australian Army by posting a YouTube video on the Australian Army Headquarters channel describing his thoughts about the allegations of sexual assault, harassment and degrading behavior by Aussie Army members. In the video, General Morrison says:
Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our Army, and the environment in which we work. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian Army. I will be ruthless in ridding the Army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.
A year later, Morrison was invited to speak at the just-concluded Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, co-chaired by Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague. The Summit welcomed representatives and citizens from more than 100 countries, including over 900 experts, NGOs, survivors, faith leaders and international organizations. This landmark event was the largest global meeting that focused on ending sexual violence ever convened.
Morrison’s address to the closing plenary session on June 13—exactly a year after his famous YouTube address—was equally stirring:
To end sexual violence in conflict is a great endeavor and at its heart stands the soldier and the choice that he will make, when all is at its most elemental—a simple, terrible choice—to be a protector or a perpetrator. I have said ‘he’ deliberately, for the world’s armies are overwhelmingly male institutions. I have deliberately excluded a third choice—to be a bystander while others commit sexual violence. There are no bystanders—the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
Not only is Lieutenant General Morrison’s stance on sexual assault extremely refreshing, especially in a sector where cases of sexual assault have traditionally been swept under the rug or do not result in prosecutions or convictions, but his clear statements about the value of women are inspirational. We know this, of course, but the difference is that the senior-most member of the Australian Army is stating these facts with a passion for justice.
In his Global Summit speech, he added:
I am no sociologist. I have no anthropological training, but I am certain of this: We live in a world where the squandering of women’s talent, the traducing of their potential, is a global disgrace. By every credible measure, women are denied opportunities that are accorded to men as a birthright of their sex. For far too many, formal education is an unfulfilled dream. At home they face levels of domestic violence that imperil their very being. This is the case in so called first-world nations and in the developing world; it is a feature of secular and non-secular societies. Women face barriers, sometimes tangible, often subliminal, that constrain their lives and their contributions to the development of our world. This debilitating aspect of modern society affects us all, including those who become our soldiers.
Thank you, Lieutenant General Morrison.
Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an intern for Ms. Follow her on Twitter: @though_she_be.