Child sex abuse ‘widespread’ in naval and army bases

Date: Aug 28, 2017

Junior recruits suffered horrific sexual abuse attacks at the hands of senior staff and apprentices, according to new revelations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The commission found that recruits, many in their early teens, faced humiliating hazing rituals, with army and navy barracks staff turning a blind eye to extreme initiation practices, which included rape as a “rite of passage”.

A report, published earlier this month, revealed the commission’s findings following investigations into several facilities. These were:

  • HMAS Leeuwin between 1960 and 1980;
  • The Army Apprentice School at Balcombe, Victoria, between 1970 and 1980; and
  • Australian Defence Force (ADF) Cadets from 2000 to the present day.

Survivors tell their stories

According to the commission, physical and sexual abuse was widespread at HMAS Leeuwin throughout the ’60s until approximately 1972.

Common practices included ‘blackballing’ or ‘nuggeting’, which involved holding cadets down and smearing their genitals or anus with boot polish, toothpaste or other substances.

Other new recruits had their genitals grabbed or pinched in a ‘bastardisation’ practice known as ‘gotcha’.

The commission heard evidence from victims, who claimed they were too afraid to report issues at the time because of threats of dishonourable discharges.

One abuse survivor claimed that he was placed under open arrest after he reported a recruit sexually propositioning two junior recruits. He was accused of being dishonest and told he would be thrown out of the navy if he continued with his allegations.

Many victims also feared repercussions for ‘dobbing’ or informing on staff. In many cases, even where cadets were believed, no further action was taken and senior personnel discouraged recruits from discussing their abuse.

Impact of abuse

The commission claimed that senior staff were aware of an unofficial hierarchy among junior recruits and their inaction created an atmosphere in which abusive behaviour was allowed to thrive.

“The impacts of the abuse have been lifelong and severe. They include serious physical injury (some of which caused long-term disability) and mental illness, suicide attempts, alcohol abuse and broken relationships,” the commission stated in its report.

The ADF welcomed the findings. Vice Chief of the Defence Force Vice Admiral Ray Griggs admitted that what victims experienced was “wrong”.

Work is currently underway on developing a Defence Youth Safety Framework to ensure the wellbeing of young recruits.

A Commonwealth Redress Scheme has also been proposed, which is likely to result in victims receiving compensation for any institutional sexual abuse they suffered.

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