Former recruits have emerged with disturbing allegations against Australia's military, claiming that as part of their "initiation," they were raped by staff and also made to rape each other—with some saying they were as young as 15, CNN reports. At a public inquiry that started Tuesday, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse started hearing evidence from some of the 111 victims who've come forward, alleging abuse at a Western Australia naval training center and a Victoria army apprentice school from the 1960s through the '80s, as well as within cadet ranks in the country's Defense Force from 2000 on. Victims say that when they tried to report the abuse, they were told it was a "rite of passage" and threatened with dishonorable discharge if they didn't keep quiet. One recruit was driven to suicide, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
One witness, a 65-year-old who was a 16-year-old navy recruit in 1967, described how three other recruits dragged him out of the shower, covered his genitals in boot polish with a scrub brush, and tried to make him perform oral sex. "I still feel a lot of guilt and shame," he says. A recruit who says he was made to rape other recruits after being raped by staff members himself says it was "pointless" to resist, and that "after a while ... getting it over and done with seemed the best solution." A rep for Australia's Defense Department tells CNN that it's "cooperating with the Royal Commission and supports its objectives to safeguard children." Evidence from both former and current employees will also be brought to light during the hearing, which runs through July 1. (What male victims of sexual assault in the US military have to say.)