A damning report on the Australian military on Tuesday detailed 24 allegations of rape that never went to trial and other claims that Defence Minister Stephen Smith admitted would “shock” people.
The report was commissioned by the government last year following the so-called Skype scandal, when footage of a young male recruit having sex with an unwitting female classmate was streamed online to cadets in another room.
Some of the allegations had already been revealed through the media but Smith Tuesday released the entire 1,500-page document detailing 847 alleged incidents of sexual or other abuse dating back to the 1950s.
“It does raise very serious allegations and does raise matters that are deeply sensitive and they will shock some people,” Smith said of the report.
As well as the rape claims, it said that “from the 1950s through to the early 1980s, many boys aged 13, 14, 15 and 16 years of age in the defence force suffered abuse including serious sexual and other physical abuse”.
Until the 1960s, boys as young as 13 were recruited into the Navy and 15-year-olds were accepted into all three services up until the early 1980s, although the minimum joining age is now 17.
It also said: “It is certain that many young females in the defence force have been subjected to serious sexual and physical assault and other serious abuse inflicted.”
The report suggested paedophiles in the past joined the military to access young people in the same way they sought out positions in orphanages, schools and churches.
Documents previously released detailed “horrific” child sex assaults and brutal initiation ceremonies and painted a culture of cover-up, failure to punish perpetrators and hostility towards victims who complained.
The report said some of the accused may now hold positions in the top ranks, adding that many alleged victims never reported the abuse because of concerns they would not be believed.
The government has yet to settle on a mechanism to deal with the allegations but a full public inquiry has been suggested.
“We are not too far away from making final conclusions in this area,” Smith said.
Defence Force chief General David Hurley has vowed the military will cooperate fully with the government and warned that any serving personnel guilty of abuse would be brought to justice.