Sydney - An inquiry into sexual and other abuse in the
Australian military has received 2 400 complaints in its first year, its head
said on Tuesday, admitting he was surprised and shocked.
Retired Judge Len Roberts-Smith, who heads the Defence
Abuse Response Taskforce established by the government after it received
hundreds of complaints dating back decades, said some stories were horrific.
"Yes, I've been very surprised quite frankly at the
range and the extent and nature... of the 2 400 complaints or complainants
who've come forward to the taskforce," he told the broadcaster ABC.
"Some of the abuse is quite horrific, it's quite
Roberts-Smith said some defence personnel allegedly
involved in past incidents, including one in which female cadets were raped and
sexually assaulted at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra in the
1990s, were still serving.
"There are some, I think, 12 people still serving in
the defence force who are in some ways the subject of recommendations from the
task force to the chief of the defence force in relation to that," he said
regarding the Canberra incident.
He added that none was above the rank of major.
Roberts-Smith said the taskforce, established to hear the
complaints after a 2012 government report detailed hundreds of claims of sexual
or other abuse in the forces from the 1950s to the present day, has revealed a
culture of cover-up in some cases.
"Indeed, what we have seen in some instances is an allegation
that is obviously rape being downgraded into misconduct, and treated summarily
in a minor disciplinary matter," he said.
In recent years the Australian military has been rocked
by allegations of sexual abuse and cruel rituals, with a string of reviews
sparked by the so-called Skype scandal in 2011 when footage of a young male
recruit having sex with a female classmate was streamed online to other cadets
without her knowledge.
The inquiries revealed a culture of covering-up, failing
to punish perpetrators and hostility towards victims who complained. In their
wake the government made a parliamentary apology to victims.
Roberts-Smith said speaking to his taskforce had been a
cathartic experience for some.
"We've got people going back decades who've suffered
serious abuse who've never told anybody, including their families, much less
police or any other authorities and they come to us and they can tell that
story," he said.
"Our emphasis is to actually listen to the
complainants, listen to what happened to them and give them the opportunity to
get the sorts of outcomes and action that they want and have been denied to
The government and the defence force say they are
committed to change and have been working to implement new policies on social
media, recruitment and the way in which complaints are dealt with.