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Published: 07 October 2015
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Abuse at Box Hill Boys’ Home examined by Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard from a number of survivors of physical and sexual abuse at the Box Hill Boys’ home in Melbourne’s east.

Prominent Aboriginal Actor Jack Charles lived in the Box Hill home in the 1940s and 50s. He told the Royal Commission corporal punishment was commonplace and that for most of his time there he was the only Aboriginal child. He said he experienced racism, sexual and physical abuse. He said the Salvation Army encouraged his religious beliefs as a young man but the sexual abuse left him confused about his sexuality and without a sense of his Aboriginality.

“I left Box Hill a sexually-confused soldier of the cross,” he said. 

Mr Charles told the Royal Commission that as an adult he pursued a claim for compensation against the Salvation Army. He said he gave most of the money away and was very disappointed with the apology he received, which described his abuse as “alleged offences.”

“We say these things because they actually happened,” he told the Commission.

Mr Charles said he’s glad more people have been speaking out about abuse at the Box Hill Boys’ Home and other institutions. 

“I’d like to see more people tell the stories,” he said.

Survivors tell about process of claiming compensation from Salvation Army

Abuse survivor Brian Cherrie told the Royal Commission he pursued a compensation claim against the Salvation Army in 2004 over abuse at Box Hill. Mr Cherrie said that he eventually settled his claim for $45,000 inclusive of legal costs.

“My lawyer explained to me that if I wished to take my claim further [to court] the Salvation Army could rely on technical legal defences,” he said. Mr Cherrie referred directly to the now-abolished Victorian laws on limitations of time to bring civil claims for child abuse and the unincorporated legal status Salvation Army.

Earlier in the proceedings, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission Sophie David explained the issue around legal structure of the Salvation Army (Southern Territory) and technical defences available to it.

“The Salvation Army (Southern Territory) operates under the name “The Salvation Army”, but is not itself an incorporated body. Rather, the “Southern Territory” is simply the broad description given to that territory within The Salvation Army’s organisation structure. As such, The Salvation Army has no ‘legal identity’ and therefore cannot sue or be sued. For the same reason it cannot enter into contracts,” she said.

“The Salvation Army’s operations and activities in the Southern Territory are predominately carried out by the relevant incorporated property trust in each state and territory. However, there are certain functions that do not involve or concern the property trusts or their trustees. One example of this is the appointment of Salvation Army officers. The unincorporated association appoints officers, not the various property trusts. Officers enter into a “spirit covenant” with the broader Salvation Army not an employment contract within a property trust.”

Another technical legal defence that has been discussed by survivors at the Royal Commission is the doctrine of vicarious liability, which our firm has consistently advocated needs to be reformed so that survivors can more readily claim compensation in court.

Despite these defences, in recent years, the Salvation Army (Southern Territory) have agreed to a protocol with Ryan Carlisle Thomas for the settling abuse claims out of court. Our firm has represented dozens of survivors of Salvation Army alleged abuse to seek financial payments and apologies where requested through this process.

This fortnight’s public hearings into the Salvation Army (Southern Territory) are open to the public at the Commonwealth Law Courts building in Angas Street, Adelaide. You can watched the hearings live on the internet via the Royal Commission’s website.

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