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Published: 12 October 2015
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Salvation Army corporal punishment in children’s homes in breach of own regulations

The leadership of the Salvation Army (Sth Territory) has conceded its staff physically abused children by using severe corporal punishment in breach of its own policies and regulations.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard evidence of a complaint by a Salvation Army employee to the South Australian government in the 1970s about mistreatment of children at the Eden Park Boys’ Home.

In a letter shown to the Commission, the staff member had complained that children were being locked for hours as punishment in a small cement-floored room with no windows and which could only be unlocked from the outside. The staff member had written he felt this was ‘outlandish’ treatment of children. He had also reported that another staff member would carry around a strap which he would use to hit children regularly. This was contrary to the Salvation Army policy on corporal punishment at the time which was that such punishment could only be meted out by a Commanding Officer. 

The Commission heard that the South Australian government had investigated the complaint, finding that some claims were substantiated but that others had been exaggerated. However, under questioning by Counsel Assisting the Commission Sophie David SC, Salvation Army (Sth Territory) Commissioner Floyd Tidd conceded that if children had been mistreated, staff could and should have been dismissed from their roles at the Home.

Commissioner Floyd Tidd said he “could not comprehend” how the culture of physical violence was able to flourish at the Home. He also agreed that the culture of widespread physical abuse at the Home meant the children felt intimidated and therefore didn’t report sexual abuse they suffered. 

Perception that children in Salvation Army homes were ‘evil’ questioned

The Commission also heard evidence of a culture within the Salvation Army that some officers may have believed that it was their duty to rid ‘evil’ from young boys. 

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald referred to an 1899 document of the Salvation Army and recited some of the language that "The Salvation Army soldier is surrounded by enemies, he must fight his passage through. The tide is against him". Commissioner Fitzgerald noted that this language informed a 1915 Orders and Regulations document of the Salvation Army and observed that "the notion of the Army fighting against evil is a very prominent theme... is it the case that in fact some within the Army actually believed that children who were admitted to these homes were themselves evil, or the progeny of evil, because it’s certainly a statement that many of the victims have said to us, that they believed that’s how they were perceived?"

"Yes, it would be difficult for me to argue or answer specifically to that scenario... some may have interpreted them and seem them as evil themselves," replied Commissioner Tidd.

"If [this was] the language of the documents... did it not almost create a problem for the staff... in the way in which they perceived those in their care, that is the boys and girls?" asked Commissioner Fitzgerald. 

"It may well have," replied Commissioner Tidd. 

The Royal Commission public hearing into the Salvation Army Southern Territory is open to the public at the Commonwealth Law Courts building in Adelaide. The hearing also be streamed live via the Royal Commission's website. You can also follow developments via our firm’s legal blog here.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas is Victoria’s largest law firm representing the rights of survivors of institutional abuse. We have acted for dozes of people who suffered abuse in Salvation Army homes. Read more about our institutional abuse practice here.

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