Widespread child sexual abuse in Salvation Army homes across three states often went unreported because the victims didn’t think they would be believed, a royal commission has found.
The commission has also criticised the church for failing to take action when children did come forward, entrenching a culture in which staff and officers were able to continue to offend.
“In many instances, where knowledge of physical or sexual abuse was brought to the attention of the Salvation Army, it failed to follow its own orders and regulations,” the commission said in its report released on Monday.
And, in some cases, children who complained about their treatment were threatened with physical harm.
The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse examined the operation of four Salvation Army homes – Eden Park in Adelaide, Box Hill and Bayswater in Victoria and one at Nedlands in Western Australia – between 1940 and 1980. They were among 55 separate homes run by the organisation across Australia from 1894 to 1998.
Thirteen former residents gave evidence detailing shocking instances of both physical and sexual abuse. Graham Rundle, 64, who was sent to Eden Park when he was just seven, told the commission he was abused at least 200 times.
Another described the home as a “hell hole” where going to bed was a terrifying experience with boys regularly taken away to bathrooms to be abused.
Other victims told how they were bashed for no reason or locked in a small room with no windows for punishment.
During the commission hearings in Adelaide last year, senior Salvation Army officials offered an apology for the years of abuse and acknowledged that the organisation had not acted properly when offences were reported.
From 1995 to 2014 the army received a total of 418 claims for compensation and paid out $18m. However, the commission found that, in some cases, it relied on technical defences, statutes of limitation and other methods to determine the size of any settlement and its liability.
A review of settled cases is currently under way, with the army prioritising those where victims were not represented or where new factual material has come to light.