The Australian Defence Force 

The Australian Defence Force currently has around 60 Australian bases. The Australian Defence Force offers young people gap year military opportunities, paid education, housing and ongoing training to become soldiers.  

Being a part of the Australian Defence Force should be considered as a positive influence and career choice for young Australians, however, the Australian Defence Force has a torturous past with thousands of young cadets being subject to horrific bullying, sexual abuse and harassment, and physical abuse on a regular basis.   

HMAS Leeuwin, WA 

HMAS Leeuwin is a Royal Australian Navy base that serves as s shore base for Royal Australian Navy personnel. The base is located in Fremantle, Western Australia. HMAS Leeuwin was commissioned in August 1940 as the naval depot for Fremantle, and the base was adopted for use as a training facility after World War II, initially for Royal Australian Navy reservists and national servicemen. From 1960 to 1984, HMAS Leeuwin served as a Junior Recruit Training Establishment and trained up to 13,000 boys aged between 15 and 16 years old. Typically, most boys either trained at HMAS Leeuwin or HMAS Cerberus (Vic) before working on warships and getting their sea training before turning 18 years old.   

The recruitment of boys at HMAS Leeuwin was suspended in 1984. HMAS Leeuwin was then decommissioned from naval service in November 1986. The base was later reopened under the control of the Australian Army as Leeuwin Barracks. In 2015, the Australian Government commenced selling off the HMAS Leeuwin base for residential development.  

History of Abuse at HMAS Leeuwin, WA 

The HMAS Leeuwin had a dark culture of abuse and intimidation when it came to training the recruits. It has been reported that such abuse involved oral sex, anal rape and harassment. It has further been reported that junior recruits had blankets thrown over their heads before being punched and kicked, were thrown down staircases, had their heads flushed in toilets, and were forced to participate in fights.  

It has been reported that young boys (junior recruits) were forced to commit sexual acts on each other by older recruits. Multiple survivors also report older recruits forcing junior recruits’ genitals into vacuum cleaners and being dragged out of bed in the middle of the being and being raped in public areas.  

In April 2011, there was a Skype sex scandal where a female cadet was filmed having sex with a coworker without her permission or knowledge. Since this incident, countless stories have emerged of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and harassment within the Australian Defence Force and the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce was established to investigate and address these countless reporting of abuse. The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce uncovered numerous stories of horrendous abuse at HMAS Leeuwin. One survivor described junior recruits being scrubbed until they were red raw, bleeding, screaming and sobbing, before then being made to run the gauntlet (running naked between older recruits whilst being beaten). This survivor also described junior recruits being made to lick urinals and boots.  

In 2016, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard evidence from survivors of sexual and physical abuse at HMAS Leeuwin. The survivor witnesses gave evidence that, as the ‘new grubs’ (junior recruits) at HMAS Leeuwin, they were sexually and physically abused by more senior recruits. Two survivors gave evidence that they were also sexually abused by staff members. The survivor witnesses gave evidence of being subjected to serious and degrading forms of sexual abuse, including fondling of genitals, masturbation, oral sex and anal penetration by a penis or other object. They gave evidence that these incidents of sexual abuse occurred in the context of violent physical assaults and sometimes resulted in serious physical injuries. The survivor witnesses gave evidence that, shortly after commencing at Leeuwin, they experienced practices of ‘bastardisation’, including: 

  • ‘blackballing’ or ‘nuggeting’ – a practice that involved a junior recruit being held down  by other recruits while boot polish, toothpaste or another substance was forcibly smeared on his genitals or anal area, sometimes with a hard brush  
  • being ‘filled in’ – being physically assaulted or bashed  
  • ‘royal flush’ – a practice which involved junior recruits holding the head of another recruit in the toilet bowl and flushing, sometimes after the toilet had been used  
  • ‘running the gauntlet’ – a practice which involved junior recruits arranging themselves into two lines facing each other, usually along a corridor or staircase, while holding heavy items. Other junior recruits were forced to run through the centre of the lines while the junior recruits standing in the lines beat them with the heavy items  
  • ‘scrubbing’ – a practice in which junior recruits were forcibly scrubbed with hard-bristled brooms or scrubbing brushes and abrasive cleaning products  
  • ‘gotcha’ – a practice which involved the grabbing or pinching of a junior recruit’s genitals and saying ‘gotcha’. 

Some of the survivor witnesses gave evidence that they disclosed the sexual abuse they experienced to staff members at Leeuwin. For these survivors, the immediate response to their disclosures of abuse was actual or threatened discharge, no action at all, or staff not believing the report.  

On 8 July 2021, the Australian Government established the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. Since this time, survivors have shared their stories of horrific sexual abuse on Australian Defence Force institutions, including HMAS Leeuwin.  

Hazing rituals/traditions has also always been rife within the Australian Defence Force and at HMAS Leeuwin.  

We are specialist abuse lawyers and can help you receive acknowledgement, meaningful apology and financial resolution from those institutions and systems of power that failed to protect you from harm. If you would like advice in relation to a childhood or adult sexual, physical and/or psychological/emotional abuse claim in any jurisdiction in Australia, please reach out to the author, Emily Wright, at Littles Lawyers today. 

Further Abuse Law information written by our Emily Wright can be found on our website.  

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