A PUBLIC inquiry into child sex abuse heard Tuesday that teenage recruits into the Australian military were forced to participate in shocking initiation practices going back to 1960 which included raping each other, among other forms of sexual abuse.
Men and women gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, claiming they were sexually abused as young as 15 when they had joined certain divisions in the Australian defense force.
CNN reports that 111 victims have come forward to report the abuse, with over a dozen of them scheduled to give evidence to the inquiry, which will continue until July 1 in Sydney.
Two former training establishments used from the 1960s to 1980s are under scrutiny for the initiation practices, namely HMAS Leeuwin in Western Australia, for junior naval recruits, and an army apprentice school in Balcombe in the state of Victoria.
According to an AFP report, published by Channel News Asia, 50 people out of the 111 that came forward attended either Leeuwin or Balcombe.
Angus Stewart, counsel assisting the inquiry, said the Royal Commission will hear that most of the sexual abuse was carried out by “older recruits as part of an informal hierarchy”.
He said the physical and sexual abuse against junior recruits were apparently part of “ritualized practices of ‘bastardization'”, done with the intention of “breaking in” and “humiliating” the new navy recruits.
Bullying tactics included “blackballing” or “nuggeting”, which involved holding a junior recruit down while smearing boot polish or toothpaste on their genitals, and “gotcha”, where older recruits grabbed a junior’s genitals, usually while they were showering.
Stewart said: “The survivors will give evidence that they were subjected to serious forms of sexual abuse, including fondling of the genitals, masturbation, oral sex, and anal penetration by a penis or other object.”
One anonymous male witness was quoted as saying he was “snatched from my bed in the middle of the night by older recruits” several times, brought to a sporting ground, and made to rape other recruits. He himself was raped by older recruits and staff as well.
He said: “The environment made it useless to resist. One could stand only so much abuse before realizing that saying ‘no’ was pointless. After a while compliance and getting it over and done with seemed the best solution.”
Stewart said survivors would rarely report the crimes due to shame and fear. Those who did report the abuse said they were not believed or told that the practices were merely “a rite of passage”.
Australia’s defense ministry told CNN it is cooperating with the Royal Commission, and acknowledged the “courage” of those who came forward to give evidence of the abuse.