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Culture of abuse and sex assaults in military

Senior Australian military officers have been accused of widespread physical abuse and sexual assaults in the services dating back to the 1950s.

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Jonathan Pearlman

Updated: Jun 16, 2012, 03:17 PM IST

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Senior Australian military officers have been accused of widespread physical abuse and sexual assaults in the services dating back to the 1950s.

A confidential report detailing the extent of abuse has prompted claims of a cover-up and calls for a public inquiry.

Commissioned by the government, it outlines more than 700 complaints of assaults on children as young as 13 and says paedophiles may have joined the Australian Defence Force, which covers all three services, to prey on recruits.

It says senior officers, some of whom may still be serving, were involved in sexual abuse, bullying, harassment and intimidation - and that many victims later became perpetrators.

"During the years from the 1950s through to the early 1980s, the ADF and successive Australian governments failed to put in place adequate protections to take into account the special needs and vulnerability of boys of 13, 14, 15 and 16 years of age to protect them," it says.

"It is certain that many boys were subjected to serious sexual and physical assault and other serious abuse … Many of the boys who suffered such abuse, later participated in inflicting sexual abuse on other children in the ADF."

The Australian navy accepted recruits as young as 13 until the late 1960s, and all three branches of the ADF continued to accept recruits as young as 15 until the 1980s. The minimum age is now 17.

Julia Gillard, the prime minister, said she was disturbed by the report and was last night (Friday) considering holding a royal commission. The government released a censored summary of it earlier this year and Stephen Smith, the defence minister, was forced to deny trying to cover up the extent of the problem.

"I released enough material to make the point that these were very serious allegations," he said.

In the uncensored report, made public this week under freedom of information laws, one complainant, named only as "John", said he was raped by a 50-year-old corporal while serving in the air force in Victoria in 1988.

"He took me back to his room, took off my clothes and then penetrated me," the man told ABC-TV. "He also raped and sexually abused other minors in the air force at the time. There was an investigation, I was the whistle-blower regarding the incidents. He was discharged … and consequently - I was 18 at the time - they also wanted me discharged."

The report, prepared by a law firm, was commissioned after a string of Australian military scandals, including a case last year in which an 18-year-old female officer cadet was secretly filmed having sexual intercourse with a colleague while other cadets watched via Skype.

The executive summary released this week proposes various measures including an apology, compensation and a royal commission to determine whether men who committed rape - or knew it was going on and failed to report it - were still serving.

"There is a risk that [the] perpetrators now hold middle and senior management position within the ADF," it says.

It adds that initiation ceremonies were brutal, rife and "tacitly accepted" at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, the army's officer training college in Canberra.

"The conduct engaged in was very frequently brutal and would have been likely to attract criminal sanctions if practised in the civil community," the report says. "The choice was to join in bashing and assaults on other boys or young males or to continue to be the target of such abuse."

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