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Australian forces receive 'very many' abuse claims

14 june 2011, 16:46
Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said on Tuesday the government had received "very many complaints" of sexual and other abuse within the military, as new rape allegations emerged, AFP reports.

The Australian Defence Force has been stung by a string of allegations, some decades old, of abusive and sexist behaviour in its ranks, including new claims that a gang rape victim was coerced by police into saying she had consented.

The woman told ABC television Monday she was assaulted by three men when she was a trainee cook in the navy in 1996, and that naval police later told her her career was over unless she said the sex was consensual.

"So they actually turned off the initial three tapes, discarded those and made me start the interview again and I basically at the time said it was consensual sex," the woman, whose identity was not revealed, told the "Four Corners" programme.

"I was 17-and-a-half, I didn't know what my rights were."

Smith said the latest allegations would be investigated by a review triggered by a scandal earlier this year at the elite Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

In the so-called Skype affair, video footage of a young female cadet having sex with an academy classmate was broadcast to his friends without her knowledge.

The teenager took her story to the media, and the publicity triggered an outpouring of complaints of misconduct from former defence personnel.

"Suffice to say that in the aftermath of the so-called Skype affair, and I'm assuming in the aftermath of Four Corners, we've received very many complaints," Smith said.

The minister said he would not reveal how many complaints had been received by law firm DLA Piper which has been commissioned to assess them all.

"Of course they're very concerning," he said of the latest allegations, adding that they would be "methodically and exhaustively" assessed.

Smith said the complaints received so far ranged from anonymous claims, which people did not want to pursue, to substantive detailed allegations and it was unknown how many would be heard.

"Indeed some allegations may well have previously been exhaustively investigated either by defence or by other authorities," he said, adding that the government could face liability on some claims.

"Four Corners" spoke to three former members of the defence force, among them a former trainee who said he was sexually assaulted and beaten by a group of men after he defended a cadet who was being bullied.

The report said another former cadet was subjected to four hours of abuse by a group of more than 30 people, including having a vacuum cleaner applied to his testicles, a practice known as "woofering".

Australia's top military brass have stressed that such practices are completely unacceptable, and that the defence force has improved and reformed over the years.

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