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Royal Commission report into Salvation Army Boys' Homes makes important findings

A report released this week by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (“the Commission”) has delivered findings critical of the response of The Salvation Army to allegations of child sexual abuse in four of its former Southern Territory institutions.

The Commission’s report follows on from the public hearing held in October 2015, during which former child residents gave evidence of the devastating physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of officers and employees who were meant to be caring for them. The Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army Southern Territory, Commissioner Floyd Tidd, also gave evidence at the public hearing. 

The report highlights The Salvation Army’s failure to adequately respond to allegations of abuse perpetrated against former child residents of Salvation Army institutions between 1940 and 1990, as well their failure to fairly respond to the legal claimants seeking to protect their legal rights in the years that followed.

Failure to respond to abuse

Prior to 1990, the Salvation Army had no policies or procedures in place governing how to handle and respond to complaints of sexual abuse in respect of its Southern Territory institutions.

The Commission’s report found that residents who complained of abuse were accused of telling lies or threatened with physical harm, and many residents did not report abuse because they did not think they would be believed. 

Despite having Orders and Regulations governing its internal operations, documents produced to the Royal Commission revealed that The Salvation Army (Southern Territory) breached its own Orders and Regulations in their response to reports of abuse.

In the case of Victoria’s notorious Box Hill Boys’ Home, for example, the documents showed that the Salvation Army had knowledge of sexual offending occurring at the institution from as early as 1947, but the actions taken to respond to such abuse – such as transferring an offender, Captain Clee, to Bayswater Boys’ Home after becoming aware of his sexual offending towards boys at the Box Hill Boys’ Home – was outside The Salvation Army’s own disciplinary process.

The report found that the State of Victoria, who had statutory oversight of the Box Hill and Bayswater Boys’ Homes, had also failed residents in failing to inspect the institutions with the frequency required by law. The Commission made further findings in relation to corporal punishment by Captain Cop at the Box Hill Boys’ Home. The report also dealt with documentary evidence of allegations of sexual and physical abuse at Bayswater Boys’ Home by Brigadier Wright and Envoy Collins, concluding that The Salvation Army failed to take action against its staff and officers who were in breach of its Orders and Regulations.

Failing claimants

The report also made findings that The Salvation Army’s response to legal claims for compensation for abuse suffered at its Southern Territory institutions was overly legalistic and failed some claimants.

It was critical of The Salvation Army’s failure to encourage claimants to report allegations of abuse to police, which it said placed other children at risk of sexual abuse and had the effect of concealing child sexual abuse and protecting the perpetrator.

The Commission’s report was also critical of The Salvation Army’s past reliance on technical legal defences such as the expiration of limitation periods and the Ellis Defence, which it says placed claimants at a disadvantage.

Having represented hundreds of survivors of child sexual abuse, we agree with the report’s sentiment that it is the obligation of organisations such as the Salvation Army to act ethically, fairly and responsibly when responding to child sexual abuse, to ensure the past failures may be fully accounted for and addressed. 

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