A royal commission investigating child abuse in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) on Tuesday heard disturbing allegations that teenage recruits were forced to rape and sexually abuse each other as part of “initiation” practices — collectively described as “bastardization” rituals. Angus Stewart, the counsel assisting the inquiry into the alleged sexual abuse at the former naval training base HMAS Leeuwin in Fremantle, Western Australia, and an army apprentice school at Balcombe in Victoria, said that he had been contacted by 111 people about child sexual abuse incidents within the ADF.

“In most cases, this public hearing will be the first time that they’ve told their experience of child sexual abuse publicly,” Stewart said during his opening address to the royal commission.

Of these, 50 cases are alleged to have taken place at HMAS Leeuwin from 1960 to 1980 and at the Balcombe Army Apprentice School between 1970 and 1980. According to Stewart, many of those sexually abused during their first six months at Leeuwin were 15- and 16-year-olds.

“The Royal Commission will hear that most of the abuse was perpetrated by older recruits as part of an informal hierarchy in which older recruits physically and sexually abused more junior recruits as part of the ritualized practices of bastardization that were designed to break in and humiliate the new entrants to the Navy,” Stewart said. “Acts of bastardization described by survivors of abuse at Leeuwin including the following — ‘blackballing’ or ‘nuggeting,’ a practice that involved a junior recruit being held down by other junior recruits, with boot polish, toothpaste or other substance being forcibly smeared on his genitals or anal area, sometimes with a hard brush.”

Stewart also alleged that the military’s “institutional culture” did not support the reporting of sexual abuse. When the victims did report the crimes, they were allegedly told that such incidents were a "rite of passage to the real navy.”

A victim identified through the pseudonym CJA, who gave evidence through his solicitor, said that he was warned that “his life would likely be in danger if the junior recruits thought that he had ratted on them.”

“He was told by an ADF staff member that he would pay a dear price if he described what happened at Leeuwin as anything other than boys being boys,” Stewart said.