The Salvation Army failed to protect young boys from sexual, physical and psychological abuse by officers and employees in four of its homes over decades, the royal commission has found.
The findings in a report released on Tuesday follow public hearings into abuse at four Salvation Army boys’ homes in NSW and Queensland from 1956 until their closure. Documentary evidence from the homes at Indooroopilly, Gill, Riverview and Bexley suggested the abuse stretched back to the 1940s.
The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse examined how the Salvation Army responded to allegations and evidence it received of child abuse – sexual and otherwise – by officers and staff, including five named Salvation Army officers, and other resident boys.
The Salvation Army had earlier revealed that 115 of 157 complaints received by January 2014 related to sexual abuse of former residents of these four boys’ homes.
The report found there was a “culture of frequent physical punishment” which was on occasion brutal and accompanied by sexual abuse. Much went unreported by the victims out of fear. In most cases when boys did report sexual abuse to a manager or officer they were punished, accused of lying or ignored.
Among its 36 findings, the royal commission noted the Salvation Army accepted that much of the alleged abuse did occur, and that accusations often went uninvestigated, including by senior officers at divisional and territorial headquarters.
Boys lived a highly regimented life in the homes, were called by numbers and given little emotional support, the report found.
Despite state law restricting corporal punishment to a method of “last resort”, only to be inflicted with an “approved cane or strap” and never in front of other children, punishment occurred regularly and excessively in all four homes, including in “punishment parades”.
“Punishment was also brutal at times. At Riverview, one boy was dangled head first into a well. Another was tied to a tree with a chain attached to a metal collar. Others were put into a ‘cage’. One was forced to crawl around an oval naked holding a chicken in the air while others stood by laughing,” the report read.
The royal commission concluded the Salvation Army’s policies and procedures were “inadequate to oversee managers who were, in some cases, involved in abuse” and had a high degree of control over the boys and staff. Most officers began work with no child-specific training.
Of five Salvation army officers specifically examined in the hearings, two worked at all four homes and only one ever faced disciplinary proceedings. Two have died.
“The Salvation Army has since paid considerable compensation to former residents affected by [Victor] Bennett’s conduct, but Bennett himself died without facing disciplinary action or criminal prosecution,” the report found.
The Salvation Army put children at further risk of sexual abuse by not removing one man, Captain Donald Schultz, from his position at Indooroopilly in 1975. Between 1965 and 1977 officers at the centre of allegations and evidence of abuse were transferred between the four homes.
The report found Queensland department of children’s services staff were aware of the abuse, including rape allegations, but were “slow to respond”.
The NSW department of child welfare “regularly reported on the [NSW] homes but rarely recorded allegations of child sexual abuse”. Officers’ reports were cursory, generalised and included only occasional comments on the children’s care.
During the February 2014 hearings the commission heard the Salvation Army unreservedly apologise to victims. It has also offered support for a voluntary compensation scheme for victims but said it would “resist having to contribute” to funding unless it retained some authority over staffing, decision making and the ability to question costs.
The royal commission has recommended a $4.38bn redress scheme with no fixed end date as the “ideal” proposal.