Australia Investigates Horrific Abuse of Over 200 Teenage Boys at Navy Base
By Girard Dorney
June 21, 2014 | 2:00 pm
Like many other nations, Australia is continuing to uncover horrendous cases of child abuse from its not-to-distant past.
On June 18, the Australian government’s Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) released a report regarding HMAS Leeuwin, a naval shore base located in Freemantle, Western Australia. The document is thorough, devastating, and more proof that cruelty and sexual exploitation is at its worst when it’s institutionalized.
The report is based on the personal accounts of over 200 complainants who were taught at the facility during the years it functioned as a Junior Recruit Training Establishment, between 1960 and 1984. While 1965 to 1971 saw the highest levels, some form of abuse occurred almost every year.
Staff shortages, caused in part by a 1957 decision to discontinue providing conscripts to the Australian Navy under the National Service Act, were probably a major reason why the scheme of training younger boys as “general entry sailors,” first terminated in 1926, was reintroduced at the end of the 1950s.
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HMAS Leeuwin was responsible for the majority of the training under the scheme. It started out taking in approximately 300 boys aged 13-17 per year. At times that intake was doubled to around 600 boys in total. These two facts, the central importance of the establishment in regards to staffing the navy and the navy’s relative lack of experience in running a training school for teenage boys, help explain why Leeuwin became what it did and why the defense administration was so unwilling and/or ill-equipped to handle it.
‘I was young and naïve and did not have the capacity to differentiate between “discipline” and “abuse.”‘
The culture of abuse at Leeuwin seems to have begun in the first years of recruitment, with abuse inflicted by staff then being adopted by recruits. A complainant from one of the early intakes stated: “Without a doubt that developing culture was a direct result of the mindless brutality inflicted by some staff. Victimization was the order of the day.”
Much of the abuse was justified as discipline, as another recruit noted: “I was young and naïve and did not have the capacity to differentiate between ‘discipline’ and ‘abuse.’” There was no official system for discipline to be carried out by “top shits” (senior recruits) on more junior recruits but it was encouraged by unofficial policies, like punishing a whole squad for the infractions of a single member, and turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of that member after hours.
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