Australian military investigates 'explicit emails'

Australia's special forces exercise during the Australian International Airs how in Melbourne March 2, 2011
Image caption Australia's military has faced a series of sex scandals

Australia's army has launched an investigation after explicit and derogatory emails circulated over the last three years were uncovered.

Although details of the emails have not been disclosed, they have been described as "highly inappropriate" and demeaning about female staff members.

Three people have been suspended and 14 are under investigation, officials say.

This comes after a government report last year detailed several incidents of abuse in the military.

Army chief Lieutenant-General David Morrison said this inquiry revolves around the production and distribution of "highly inappropriate" material over the last three years.

He described the emails - comprising text and images - as "explicit, derogatory, demeaning and repugnant".

"I view the allegations that are being made in the gravest light," he said, adding that it was worse than the military sex scandal which rocked the country in 2011.

He added that the highest-ranking official involved was a lieutenant-colonel and others included majors, warrant officers, sergeants and corporals. At least 90 other people, mostly from the army, are also implicated in the emails, officials say.

Lt-Gen Morrison said he has apologised on behalf of the army to at least four of the female victims, who he said were angry and concerned about the situation.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith described the conduct of those involved as "despicable".

Australia began a series of inquiries into its military after an incident in April 2011 in which two cadets from the Australian Defence Force Academy were accused of secretly filming a female cadet having sex and broadcasting it on the internet.

The investigation received more than 1,000 claims of sexual, physical and mental abuse dating from the 1950s. The government apologised to victims last year.

A separate review by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick warned that women were failing to thrive in the Australian military and were under-represented in it.

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