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Australian military threatened with mass abuse lawsuit

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) April 16, 2011
Australia's scandal-hit defence force faced the threat of a class action lawsuit on Saturday after advocates for an ex-recruit who claims he was beaten and raped warned "hundreds" more cases could emerge.

Police are investigating the allegations of the man, who was just 15 when he joined HMAS Leeuwin in the 1970s and says he endured beatings and assaults that saw him honourably discharged after less than a year.

Fellow sailors forced the victim, now in his 50s, to run a gauntlet of rubber hoses and pillowcases filled with boots and sexually abused him with a mop handle, he claims.

The Vietnam Veterans' Association of Australia, which is supporting the ex-recruit, says at least 10 other former servicemen have filed complaints of sexual, physical and psychological abuse from the 1970s and 80s since he came forward.

And the recent scandal involving a male cadet filming and broadcasting himself having sex with an unsuspecting female colleague at Australia's elite military college, ADFA, could potentially trigger "hundreds" more complaints.

"Somebody has to take responsibility for what happened here. These guys have served their country," said the association's chief Barry Heffernan, warning that a mass lawsuit could be on the cards.

"We will absolutely pursue a class action through the courts if appropriate and if more ex-servicemen come forward," he told The Australian newspaper.

"The association is not going to back off."

Canberra ordered a sweeping review of military culture at ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy, after the female cadet took her story to the media this month, prompting a wave of misconduct and gay-hate complaints.

ADFA's head, Bruce Kafer, was stood aside and Defence Minister Stephen Smith appointed a human rights commissioner to review the treatment of women at the college, also flagging greater frontline roles for females.

Australia's military has gained an unwanted reputation for having a drinking and sexist culture, underscored in a recent 400-page report about incidents on the supply ship HMAS Success in 2009.

The report examined allegations of a "predatory culture" and drunken misconduct, including claims that sailors kept a list known as "The Ledger" which put dollar values on sexual conquests with female colleagues.

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