By Amy Coopes (AFP) – Apr 16, 2011
SYDNEY — Australia's scandal-hit defence force faced the threat of a class action lawsuit Saturday after advocates for an ex-recruit who claims he was beaten and raped warned "hundreds" more cases could emerge.
Police are investigating claims made by the man, who was just 15 when he joined HMAS Leeuwin in the 1970s and says he endured beatings and assaults before being 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 said.
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.
A 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 trigger "hundreds" more complaints, the association said.
"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 result.
"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 suspended and Defence Minister Stephen Smith appointed a human rights commissioner to review the treatment of women at the college, also saying women would be offered more frontline roles.
The ex-HMAS Leeuwin recruit said the ADFA case made him want "more than ever for the police investigation to bring those people to justice".
"If a class action lawsuit can achieve this then I want to be a part of it," he said.
Any such action would have the support of independent senator and lawyer Nick Xenophon, who said he would help to secure counsel for the case.
Smith has promised that his inquiry will examine all allegations aired in the media "carefully, exhaustively and methodically", but the stories of abuse continue to mount.
One officer, a major who has served in Iraq, received graphic death threats over his sexuality but no one had been charged, despite a police probe, and the culprit continued to serve, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"They have comprehensively and systematically failed to train these people to behave appropriately and that is evidenced in their behaviour," a friend of the officer told the Herald.
"They had no fear of breaking army law, and that's made him very afraid."
Australia's military has gained an unwanted reputation for a culture of drinking and sexism, 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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