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'Kate' wins Daily Life's woman of the year

ADFA's faceless Skype scandal victim known only as 'Kate' wins Daily Life's woman of the year.

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The woman at the centre of one of the military’s most damning sex scandals has been named Daily Life’s Woman of the Year.

Known only as ‘‘Kate’’, the 20-year-old from northern NSW was voted by the public and a panel of judges at the Fairfax Media-owned website as the Australian woman who had advocated for and instigated the most positive change this year.

The victim of the Australian Defence Force Academy Skype scandal said her fight had been for all of those who had ‘‘suffered silently and unfairly’’.

‘‘I’m doing it for them. I’m doing it for any female who’s ever lost their career because of sexual assault within the Defence Force,’’ Kate said. ‘‘I’ve taken strength from what’s happened to you. That’s what makes it worthwhile and that’s what gives me the strength to keep going every day.’’

She took the top honour ahead of Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and  Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly and follows in the footsteps of last year’s inaugural winner, former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Daily Life editor Sarah Oakes said: ‘‘What’s so interesting about Kate winning is that she was able to achieve all this without any public profile. Her actions have spoken loudly enough.’’

When, in April 2011, Kate approached the media with the claim that a live video of her having sex with a fellow cadet had been broadcast to a group of male cadets, she had no idea of its reverberations.

‘‘At the time it was just about going ‘This has happened to me and it’s not OK,’’’ Kate said. ‘‘It wasn’t until three or four days later when other people started coming forward with their stories that I went ‘Hang on a second, this is a lot bigger than just me, this isn’t about me any more.’’’

And so the ball began rolling for the air force recruit, revealing the  extent of the  cultural problems within the Defence Force.

Kate said she hoped her ordeal paved the way for women in the armed forces to be treated with respect  and led to a cultural shift.

But, despite her efforts and those of former defence minister Stephen Smith – for whom she has ‘‘nothing but admiration’’ – that change may take years to come about.

A review by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner on women serving in the Defence Force recommended increasing gender targets and punishing leaders who fail to crack down on abuse and sexual harassment. Ms Broderick’s recommendations, released in August last year,  are yet to be implemented.

‘‘As Defence culture stands at the moment, I think we still have a really long way to go before I would feel confident in being able to say, ‘Yes, it’s a good career choice for females,’’’ Kate said, drawing attention to scandal after scandal involving sex and the military.

She said her family rallied round her during her lowest moments and that the unexpected letters and messages of support she received via the Human Rights Commission, her legal team and the media had been a source of motivation.

‘‘In the beginning and for a long time, I didn’t feel I had the support within Defence. When that’s all you see, this negativity towards you and this hostility towards you, it’s hard to think you do have support from others,’’ she said.

‘‘The past three years have been a really massive emotional rollercoaster and it has been at a great personal cost. What I have done has brought about change and Iwill leave a legacy and that’s a really good feeling.’’

This week she is expected to file her legal case for compensation against the Defence Department, seeking resources to establish a new career. She will be discharged from the military on health grounds in March and plans a new life as a teacher.

‘‘The compensation’s about keeping the issues in the public arena so that Defence don’t think that it’ll just go away, because it’s not going away,’’ she said. ‘‘I will keep fighting for as long as it takes.’’