SYDNEY - Newly released documents detail numerous cases of physical and sexual abuse of minors in Australia’s armed forces dating back to the 1950s, prompting Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Friday to raise the possibility of a high-level public inquiry.
The cases are described in a confidential report commissioned by the Australian military last year and made public late Thursday by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Highly redacted extracts from the report had been released three months ago by Defense Minister Stephen Smith. What the broadcaster obtained, through a Freedom of Information request, was the full executive summary of the report.
It contains the findings of an investigation, conducted by the law firm DLA Piper under a commission from the Australian Defense Force, into hundreds of accounts of sexual abuse across the military, including cases of rape against male recruits as young as 13 years old. It describes a culture in which victims were discouraged from reporting abuse and abusers were not held accountable and raises the possibility that some pedophiles might have joined the military to gain access to boys.
The Australian Navy accepted recruits as young as 13 until the late 1960s, and all three branches of the service continued to accept recruits as young as 15 until the 1980s. The minimum age now is 17. The report said 847 people came forward with what were deemed to be “plausible’’ accusations of abuse in the course of the investigation, although it was unclear how many of those were underage.
“It is certain that many boys were subjected to serious sexual and physical assault and other serious abuse while they were in the ADF from the 1950s through to the 1970s and possibly into the 1980s,’’ the report said. “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 from other boys and from adults in the ADF.’’
‘Many boys were subjected to serious sexual and physical assault.’Australian military report
The release of the document sent the government into crisis mode Friday, as it sought to address what may prove to be the most damaging in a string of embarrassing accusations of misconduct that have tarnished the reputation of the country’s armed forces, which are fighting alongside NATO troops in Afghanistan. Gillard said the findings were “deeply distressing.’’
The report was commissioned after an episode last year in which a male cadet at the elite Australian Defense Force Academy was caught streaming video of himself having sex with a female cadet to his friends via Skype without her knowledge. Gillard raised the possibility of convening a Royal Commission, a major investigative body occasionally used by members of the British-led Commonwealth to investigate sensitive public issues.
Smith denied Friday that there had been a cover-up of the extent of the abuses, saying the fact that a Royal Commission was now being considered highlighted how seriously the government took the findings.
“I released enough material to make the point that these were very serious allegations and very concerning matters,’’ he said, referring to the extracts released earlier.