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Taskforce reveals extent of brutal teen abuse at Australia base

SYDNEY--Hundreds of teenage boys suffered brutal physical and sexual abuse at an Australian naval base, a taskforce said Wednesday, as it slammed the Defence Force for failing to protect them.

The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce said the shocking and systemic treatment at HMAS Leeuwin between 1960 and 1984 was “much more serious and widespread” than previously acknowledged.

“The pattern of abuse at HMAS Leeuwin was such that Defence knew or ought to have known that abuse was occurring, yet failed to take appropriate action to stop it,” said the taskforce head, retired judge Len Roberts-Smith.

A national inquiry into abuse in the Australian military was set up by the government in 2012 after the service was rocked by claims of rape and sexual assault, a culture of cover-ups and a failure to punish perpetrators.

It received thousands of complaints and led to the government making a parliamentary apology to victims.

The abuse at Western Australia's Leeuwin navy base, which has since closed, was considered so serious that a separate report was instigated to deal with more than 200 complaints from junior recruits, many of whom were 15 or 16 at the time.

It heard that they suffered terrifying assaults, including rape and sodomy, often during humiliating initiation ceremonies at the instruction of senior sailors.

Victims told of being stripped and scrubbed with brushes so hard it left them bleeding, and of being so badly beaten that bones were broken.

Others were held down while an object such as a mop handle was forced into their anus or a vacuum cleaner forcibly applied to their genitals.

“I was constantly living in fear that I would be bashed, raped or assaulted. I was constantly in a state of anxiety and this was not a nice way to be,” one recruit told the taskforce.

Lasting Damage

Many of them told the inquiry the experiences ruined their later lives and careers, with some blaming it for bouts of depression, broken relationships, and alcohol and substance abuse.

One former Leeuwin recruit said he was still traumatized after two men raped him on the same night at the base.

“I've lived with that for 46 years. I still live with it. I have terror every day. I can't get it out of my mind. I hate nights. I can't sleep,” he said.

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