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HMAS Leeuwin Abuse Update


HMAS Leeuwin was a naval land base in Fremantle, Western Australia where Junior Recruits were sent for basic training when they joined the Royal Australian Navy.  The Junior Recruits were aged 15 or 16 at the time, and spent twelve months in basic training at that base.

Tragically, many Junior Recruits were the victims of atrocious physical or sexual assaults, bullying and bastardisation between the 1960s and 1980s. Some were victimised by staff at HMAS Leeuwin, and many were the victims of abuse by Junior Recruits in earlier intakes than them.

The culture of abuse and lack of effective supervision and management at HMAS Leeuwin has been examined at various times in history; including in 1971 by Judge Rapke, by DLA Piper in 2012, by the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce in 2014 and now by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in 2016.

Abuse at multiple levels of command

The experiences described by victims suggest that abuse was rife within the base. Officers were involved as well as abusive behaviour amongst the Junior Recruits (JRs) themselves in an informal hierarchical system.

More senior JRs were often responsible for the hazing or initiation rituals and bastardisation, which involved both physical and sexual abuse.

Most boys felt too scared or ashamed to report what was happening to them. Others tried to report it but were discouraged from doing so, for fear of being discharged over allegations of homosexual activity. It is likely that many have still not come forward even decades later.

The pattern of abuse continued further up the chain of command, with officers and senior sailors either complicit or actively taking part in the abuse themselves.

With the number of cases which have now been described and reported in the various inquiries, there can be no doubt that HMAS Leeuwin was an establishment at which Junior Recruits were at significant risk of suffering lifelong harm from serious physical or sexual abuse.

Aftermath of abuse

The victims have been living with the effects of childhood abuse for many decades now, and many still haven’t been able to tell anyone.

It is common to hear of them experiencing severe health problems, including alcohol dependency, substance addiction and psychological issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many suffer nightmares and problems associated with sleep, as the violence at HMAS Leeuwin often occurred after lights out.

The damaging effects of this abuse does not stop at the individual. Family members have been deeply affected too – parents who do not know or understand what happened to change their son when he joined the Navy, wives and children who have lived with men unable to fully engage emotionally and physically in relationships.

If you or someone you know has been affected by these issues, call Lifeline on 131 114 for help or information.

Child Sex Abuse Royal Commission ADF Case Study

Shine Lawyers represented many survivors of abuse at HMAS Leeuwin in getting reparation payments from the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce whilst it was operational. We also wrote a submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse urging them to include HMAS Leeuwin in the scope of their investigations.

In June 2016 the Royal Commission held a public hearing Case Study looking at child sex abuse at HMAS Leeuwin as well as two other areas of interest in the ADF. Shine Lawyers is involved in representing two of the survivors giving evidence at the hearing, and assisting the Commission with evidence concerning the process we have successfully created to manage claims for Defence abuse survivors.

For some years now the Shine Lawyers’ Survivor Litigation team has been leading the attempts to get the HMAS Leeuwin survivors stories heard and to seek justice for them for the harm they’ve suffered. We have already achieved that for a large number of HMAS Leeuwin survivors.

Evidence is now being heard in the Royal Commission, and in due course they will make findings. We expect this will further strengthen the position of HMAS Leeuwin survivors in the recognition of their claims.

Written by Shine Lawyers on June 20, 2016. Last modified: September 6, 2018.

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