UK & World News
Australia Apologises For Military Sex Abuse
The Australian government has made an apology to military personnel who were sexually abused or otherwise mistreated during their service.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith made the apology in Parliament on behalf of the government following hundreds of claims of rape and sexual assault from members of the armed forces, past and present.
An inquiry into the allegations - which span six decades - has also begun and a compensation fund set up.
Mr Smith said: "Young men and women have suffered treatment which no member of our defence force or our community generally should experience."
The apology is the latest step in a two-year effort to reform the culture of the Australian military and make it more accepting of women.
The minister added: "Young men and women have endured sexual, physical or mental abuse from their colleagues which are not acceptable and do not reflect the values of a modern, diverse, tolerant, Australian society."
He acknowledged claims that officers had abused their positions of trust through their own behaviour or by turning a blind eye to the actions of others.
Mr Smith also announced that retired judge Len Roberts-Smith had been appointed to examine allegations of abuse from more than 1,000 people dating back to the 1950s.
The earliest case relates to the alleged abuse of a 13-year-old navy trainee in 1951, while the most recent relates to events in 2011.
A preliminary review of these allegations by a law firm found that 750 were "plausible," Mr Smith said.
The three-month inquiry could result in compensation of up to 50,000 Australian dollars (£33,000) for each victim and the alleged perpetrators being referred to criminal authorities for prosecution.
Mr Smith warned that some of the perpetrators could still be serving in the military.
Australian Defence Force (ADF) Chief Lieutenant General David Hurley also apologised to victims and pledged to cooperate with the inquiry.
He said: "The number, nature, and range of allegations demonstrates that some members of the ADF have failed to understand the responsibility that rank imposes; that rank is a privilege and not a licence for domineering, belittling or predatory behaviour."
The government began its inquiries last year after a young woman alleged that a fellow cadet had secretly filmed a sexual encounter between the pair and broadcast it to their colleagues at the Australian military officer training academy.
That, and the attention the government focused on it, provoked a flurry of complaints of sexual misconduct over the decades.