Child Abuse Royal Commission Case Study 25 (Or: A Few Thoughts About Redress)



The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will hold a public hearing in Sydney (Level 17, Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney) next week, from Wednesday 25 March 2015 until Friday 27 March. The purpose of the hearing is to enable invited persons and institutions to speak to their written submissions to the Royal Commission’s consultation paper on redress and civil litigation. Following this public hearing, the Royal Commission will issue its final report on redress and civil litigation by mid‑2015.

In what follows is something I wrote and sent off to the Royal Commission a little while ago with some general thoughts about the issue of redress, which I hope will be considered in relation to the consultation paper on redress and civil litigation released by the Royal Commission. Obviously, I’ve written and spoken a fair bit about redress, compensation, or whatever you want to call it, elsewhere. The following piece is an attempt to look at the issue from different angles that may possibly not have been encapsulated in things I’ve said elsewhere.

In addition to the stimulus of the Royal Commission, I thank a dear friend who helped in the development of my written thoughts by agreeing to play the helpful role of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ when I was attempting to express my views on the subject verbally and quite clumsily. Her sharp, incisive mind and much-appreciated willingness to ask me hard questions and push me to think about things from a variety of perspectives have always proved a great balance to my more emotional and sometimes a bit fuzzy way of looking at the world, and did so this time round, as always. Thanks, K 🙂 ]



“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” (Nelson Mandela)

There is another keen revelation of a society’s soul in the way it treats adults whom society has failed as children. Failed to protect. Failed to nurture. Failed to provide every opportunity for growth into a strong, resilient, confident, healthy, and productive member of society. In many cases, crippled, psychologically destroyed, or cruelly limited. A society that doesn’t care for such adults properly is not one that can call itself civilised.

Upon a person reaching the age of 18, most societies suddenly become somewhat harsh towards that human being. There is a tacit assumption that childhood has prepared the person for the wilderness, the complexity, and difficulties of adult life. In the case of those abused as children, this preparation has often not occurred. In a way, true and meaningful childhood has never really been experienced by those abused as children. Thinking of it that way, there is an unfinished job, and one that we ignore at our peril.

The job for a society that has failed to protect a child from abuse is to restart the clock, go back in time, and get it as right as it is possible to get it right, whatever the age of the adult survivor. The adult survivor must be given the same treatment that should have been provided in childhood – safety, security, the opportunity to safely make (repeated) mistakes as he or she learns and grows, assistance to develop his or her full potential, guidance in knowing how to have healthy and safe relationships with others, and the knowledge of how to live balanced, productive, and stable lives, among other things that may be missing.

We allow 18 years for development of a child before we say, for the most part, “Off you go. You’re on your own, kid.” At a minimum, we should therefore allow 18 years for development and support of an adult society failed in childhood. Longer, in fact, because there is also often the need to first undo damage done, such as to help a survivor unlearn maladaptive coping strategies he or she may have adopted or overcome limitations such as poor sleep, anxiety, trust problems, and so on, before going on to help a survivor navigate through life as strong and resilient an adult as possible. Longer, in fact, because the effects of abuse may re-emerge repeatedly throughout life as a person reaches different life stages and challenges.

Think about a child learning to walk. We allow the child to stumble and fall and get up again as many times as it takes before the child learns to walk without falling. Adult survivors must be given the freedom and financial and other forms of security to stumble, fall, and get up again too. Institutions must bear the responsibility and costs of multiple attempts by survivors to grow strong, if necessary. If we truly love children unreservedly, and give them space and time to learn and grow, so we must love the adults they become unreservedly, and without time limits or restrictions on their progress towards achievement of their fullest potential.

Anyone who has loved or loves a survivor cannot fail to feel this way. In the popular fictional television programme ‘Cold Case’, which is about police investigations of very old criminal cases, adult characters’ faces morph into younger faces as the viewer is taken back in time to when the crime occurred. As a teenager, when my father ran the support group Formerly in Children’s Homes (FICH), long before I watched this programme, I experienced something similar to the experience of watching this programme. In the faces of abuse survivors of many ages, from middle-aged to elderly, particularly when they spoke of their childhoods, I saw starkly, in many cases, the faces of children behind the adults’ faces. Bewildered children. Frightened children. This is not to say that the members of the group were not extraordinary people, and it is not to infantilise them or suggest that they did not possess great strengths and abilities or to dismiss the often extraordinary achievements of their lives. It is merely to make the point that no person without compassion for his or her fellow human beings cannot fail to look into the face of a survivor, see the child that was, and wish, fervently, to go back in time, shield the child who was not shielded, nurture that child, and make things right.

If we love our children, if we believe that children are our future, if we believe that a child raised in a safe and loving environment will go on to better our society and is worth investing in without limit, so must we love and invest in those who missed out on what should have been taken for granted, and do whatever it takes to make things right for them now.

Justice delayed is justice denied – survivors need help now

The imperative to provide adequate redress is urgent. My father died before achieving true justice. He died nearly 25 years after first informing broader society of what happened in Australia’s Forgotten Australians. This was a personal tragedy for him. It is a personal tragedy for those still living who are still to see any form of redress at all. I suggest to the Royal Commission and any other governmental agency following its progress that while it is important to get redress right, there is also a need for an emergency response now, while working out more details later. The immediate and pressing needs of survivors exist now, and can’t wait to be addressed until possibly years before the Royal Commission’s recommendations are or are not implemented by whatever government is in power. The longer it is before the needs of survivors are addressed, the more the damage to survivors compounds, the more likely it is that survivors will die before seeing justice or getting a chance at a better life, and the more likely it is that families of deceased survivors will have to live with the pain of never having seen their loved ones see justice and experience the peace and healing that only true justice and care can deliver.

At the bare minimum, governments need to ensure provision of unlimited, free counselling to survivors with any provider of their choice. They will need this to participate in any redress scheme that may come out of the Royal Commission anyway, because participation in it will be, in many cases, extremely difficult in its own way, whether because it means having to revisit past traumas, speak to strangers about abuses suffered, or other factors. Other health needs must be addressed just as urgently. In addition to mental health needs, survivors often have serious physical health problems that are compounding daily in their effects on the bodies of survivors. The promised Gold Card for Forgotten Australians still hasn’t been delivered, causing enormous distress to those whose hopes were raised and dashed. It would be good to see it delivered not just for Forgotten Australians, but all survivors.

The need to talk benefits not just costs – language matters

Redress should not be framed as involving a cost to society. It is vital that it doesn’t, particularly in an economic and political environment in which governments are looking to cut costs and avoid commitments to new expenditures. I am slightly disappointed in the actuarial modelling commissioned for the Royal Commission in the sense an opportunity was missed to perform thorough research firmly grounded in economic modelling best practice to show both costs and benefits. Economic modelling that I believe would have demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that redress is not really a matter of cost, but rather a matter of investment, an investment that would yield multiple returns per dollar expended.

While some survivors reach great heights in society, whether publicly or privately, in terms of what they contribute to society’s wellbeing, I believe that they could all contribute even more if they were cared for properly, properly compensated, and given the opportunity to show what they could have been were their childhoods not scarred by abuse. The benefits to society would accrue in the form of things such as higher gross domestic products per annum, increased tax revenues, reduced welfare expenditure, second and third generations less negatively affected by caregivers’ childhood abuses, and stronger and more resilient communities, among other things. Some of these things can be quantified quite easily, some less easily, but they can be quantified. I hope the Royal Commission or some other body will at some stage endeavour to re-examine the approach that has been taken to modelling redress by performing a thorough cost-benefit analysis of redress. I would like to see some estimation of the cost of not properly compensating and caring for victims and their families. It may mean the difference between the Royal Commission’s recommendations being accepted or rejected, particularly if the economic environment in a few years from now is even worse than it is now.

Redress is not a one-off thing – it should be a lifelong commitment to meeting the needs of survivors

I believe strongly that any concept of redress must involve lifelong commitment to the needs of survivors if we are to be consistent about our belief in the worth of nurturing and protecting people through childhood. And no, it doesn’t matter that we are talking about quite different time periods when we think about raising a child properly and fixing things for a child who was not. Yes, from one, somewhat brutal standpoint, society has more years to enjoy the fruits of a young adult who’s been raised well throughout childhood, but it would be not only brutal but fallacious to assume that just because an adult survivor may only have a fraction of the years ahead of them than that of an 18-year-old, they necessarily have less to offer, less to contribute.

Even if we think about the case of, say, a survivor who, for the sake of argument, is so badly damaged by what happened in childhood that they may never re-join the workforce, or may be too old to do so, but who is helped, this person still has something to offer, even if it’s in the ability to share the wisdom of his or her experiences and help younger generations flourish in ways that the survivor did not. Before my father died, for example, he used to speak excitedly about how he planned to help his grandchild’s language development by ensuring that he learned his Latin roots early on in his studies. Had my father lived longer, he would have helped another human being reach even greater heights than this child will already reach. He’d also have finished a least one of his many ambitious personal projects, one of which was a thorough work on the growing of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, a project he embarked upon following frustration at the lack of any definitive, thorough, or completely accurate growers’ guide for amateur gardeners.

When an implicit social contract is broken, the full costs must be paid

Children cannot generally enter into legal contracts. Yet, in a way, society enters into something of an implicit contract with a newborn baby. We say, in a way, to that baby that we will teach, guide, nurture, and generally prepare him or her for adulthood. At the very minimum, we warrant that we will protect the baby from harm throughout ensuing infancy and childhood.

Institutions are often quite unabashed in making such promises. Those comprising groups such as Forgotten Australians lived through a time when society was being told quite baldly by institutions that these children were being cared for by people who would not only not harm them, but also help them become the best they could be. Money flowed accordingly to these institutions, whether from imposts upon parents, donations from the public, contributions from the taxpayer, or the profits from children exploited through child slave labour horribly repackaged as some sort of noble exercise in preparing children for adult life.

Promises of this type continue to be made by institutions, often most explicitly by those who profit the most from the business of helping to raise children. I drive regularly past a quite crude billboard in my area advertising a private girls’ school that boasts some ridiculously high rate of academic achievement – the billboard quotes the percentage of girls who obtain an OP score (a score of academic achievement used to determine entry to tertiary study in Queensland, Australia) of better than 5 (a rank that admits young people to most courses preparing them for lives as, generally, high-earning professionals). Another tawdry billboard depicts a beaming young model in the school’s uniform with the accompanying caption “Aspiring oncologist.” The promises are thinly veiled.

We allow children to be processed through the foster system, which also involves payment of money to carers, on the promise that where they end up is safe and conducive to the production of strong, untraumatised, resilient adults. Those who send their children to public schools pay taxes that contribute to the education and development of their children. I could give many more examples, but hopefully the point is made. Institutions, including governments, that have made an implicit social contract with a child to do him or her no harm, and provide an environment in which that child may thrive, but that have failed to do so, have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to make the contract good. They can’t run and hide when the child who’s been failed turns up again as a struggling adult.

Make the polluters pay

“We have a responsibility as a state to protect our most vulnerable citizens: our children, seniors, people with disabilities. That is our moral obligation. But there is an economic justification too – we all pay when the basic needs of our citizens are unmet.” (John Lynch)

Redress must involve, at a minimum, payment of the full costs of the consequences of abuse to survivors and those who support them or whose lives are otherwise affected by the abuse survivors suffered. We need to ask: what are the costs of not having forced institutions to pay for what they have done; who is currently bearing these costs; and is the ‘burden’ (I place inverted commas around this term because I am conscious of its possible perception that I am saying that loving someone who’s been abused is all about pain) being distributed fairly? Because those costs are already being borne by someone, least often and indeed disgustingly poorly, by responsible institutions.

Obviously, costs are usually been borne with love and compassion by those who care for survivors, but that doesn’t mean carers’ needs and the needs of other people in survivors’ lives don’t matter and that their losses, if they have occurred, don’t matter, and it doesn’t mean that these people shouldn’t be compensated too. And, just as obviously, survivors will be doing the best they can, but in most cases could do so much better if they had not been abused or if their needs as adults had been met much earlier than the typical 20-year-plus time it takes for them to even think much about the abuse they suffered or to understand even partially the effects it has had upon them. And, for the rest of society, we need to understand that there’s a cost too – a cost in the form of lost potential not just of the survivor but also often of others in the penumbra of people around the survivor. This may be in the form of a ‘deadweight loss’ to society – a cost that no-one can recover.

This also leads me, incidentally, to the point that unless the full cost, the true cost, of abuse by an institution is forced back upon the institution, we have a problem of incentive. Yes, criminal sanctions are critical, but they must exist in tandem with economic sanctions, since so many institutions care most about their financial bottom lines. Redress in the arena of only a few hundred thousand dollars simply doesn’t come close to meeting the types of losses I have calculated to have been incurred by survivors I have known, or the losses of their families. We say “make the polluters pay.” Why should institutions be any different? Redress set at ridiculously low levels (anything below around half a million dollars is unlikely to come close to the average losses involved in a single instance of child abuse, if my admittedly limited observations are representative of a greater whole) doesn’t meet this objective of making those responsible bear the costs. Worse, it raises the ugly possibility of institutions simply building in small and predictable redress payments as part of their ongoing costs of doing business, and as part of what might harshly be described as a policy of ‘manageable and acceptable fault rates’ (i.e., child abuse victims), frequent protestations by most institutions of having “zero tolerance” for child abuse notwithstanding. It is much better that they should have to face the possibility of potentially extremely large payments in the future if they don’t get things right. If the threat of criminal sanctions, if moral considerations, if love and respect for children and other things that are supposed to stop them letting children get hurt aren’t working, perhaps the looming threat of insolvency or enormous costs in the future may finally get their attention?

Fairness to institutions?

In recent discussions with a senior member of the Salvation Army in Australia, I was told that I needed to have regard to “organisational resources” in payments to victims. I snapped back that if the total cost inflicted upon society from an institution’s failure to protect children was greater than its organisational resources, perhaps it didn’t have a moral right to exist anymore. I didn’t add at the time, but should have, that this was even more compelling, to my mind, if the institution had had decades to get things right but had failed to do so. A stich in time saves nine. If the costs of redress are high, institutions have only themselves to blame, and if insolvency is the outcome of making things right, so be it. There are institutions that haven’t abused children on the scale of those institutions whose failings are now getting to be quite well known. If proper redress to victims means the ultimate dissolution of the institution responsible, society won’t lose out. There are plenty of organisations doing what culpable institutions call ‘good works’ that don’t hurt children and haven’t done so. Let resources flow to them. The quantum of ‘good works’ occurring in our society will remain in line with the goodwill, charitable impulses, and giving ability of people who haven’t much time to do such ‘good works’ but would like to pay something to see others do them. Abusing institutions that fall back on ‘good works’ defences want us to forget this. Let’s not.

All abuse matters

As a final note, I would like to state the hope that the Royal Commission will at least remark upon the need to offer redress to all victims of child abuse, not only those who experienced sexual abuse. While the terms of reference may limit the Royal Commission in what it can recommend, it is free I think to comment upon matters outside its scope, and anything it may say about the need to compensate survivors and their families in situations of all types of child abuse would be influential.

Aletha Blayse

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

David Shoebridge’s 3-Point Reform Package for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse (Or: Tear Down Those Walls)

Shoebridge courageous

New South Wales parliamentarian (right): “I’m thinking of voting against the NSW Greens’ 3 point reform package for victims of child sexual abuse. What do you think?”

Political adviser (left): “I think that would be a most … courageous … decision.”

A lazy post today. Indeed, it is little more than a replication of a media release put out by New South Wales Greens parliamentarian, David Shoebridge, yesterday, about a three-point package of reforms designed to better conditions for victims of child sexual abuse. I’ve done so because although the media has given it some coverage, it deserves to be acknowledged and publicised as widely as possible. There’s really nothing to add to what has already been said in the media release, reproduced below. It says it perfectly.


3 point reform package for victims of child sexual abuse

Media release

19 March 2015

The NSW Greens have today released a 3 point reform package to better serve and support victims and survivors of past child sexual abuse in their pursuit of civil and criminal justice.  This reform package was designed in consultation with victims, support groups, lawyers and other stakeholders.

For further detail please see the attached Media Release (150319 MB JUSTICE Greens NSW launch 3 point reform package for victims of child sexual abuse).

  1. Remove time limits for victims’ civil damages claims

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found that the average time to report child sexual abuse is over 20 years.  Yet the law in NSW requires civil compensation claims to be brought within 3 years after a person turns 18.  These timeframes are grossly out of step.  The NSW Greens have drafted the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2014 to remove the time limit for civil claims by victims of child sexual abuse.  Victoria and many other jurisdictions in the US, Canada and Europe have implemented these reforms.  NSW victims deserve no less. 

1. Bring sentencing for past child abusers into the 21st century

Modern day NSW courts are forced by precedent to sentence perpetrators of child sexual abuse as if they were the court at the time of the offence – which might be 40 years ago.  In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when many offences occurred, society had a flawed view that child sexual abuse was a less serious crime, and historically courts gave much more lenient sentences.  Applying these flawed values in sentencing today brings the justice system into disrepute and disrespects victims.  The Greens are proposing amendments to NSW sentencing legislation to fix this.

2. Stop churches hiding their money in trusts

Victims of child sexual abuse by clergy or officials of the Catholic and other churches must have a right to seek redress from the organisation that abused them.  But many churches’ property is held in property trusts that shield its money from victims’ claims – the ‘Ellis defence’.  This artificial legal structure cannot be permitted to continue to deny legitimate claims by victims of abuse.  The NSW Greens have drafted The Roman Catholic Church Trust Property Amendment (Justice for Victims) Bill 2014 to allow victims to sue the property trusts on behalf of the Catholic Church, removing the ‘Ellis defence’.  The reform should then be extended to other organisations.

NSW Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge MLC said:

“Case after case has come out of the Royal Commission involving the criminal sexual abuse of children dating as far back as the 1950s, and it’s not enough to just wring our hands and say we’ll try harder in the future.

“Those children are now adult survivors of child abuse, and their path to justice is still strewn with obstacles.

“We can and should change the law going forward, but there are barriers facing victims of past child abuse that must be removed to deliver justice now.

  1. Limitation period

 “It is unacceptable that NSW law requires victims to make any claims for damages by age 21 when we know that it often takes decades for survivors of child sexual abuse even to tell anyone about it.

 “NSW Parliament cannot stand by while organisations that allowed children to be abused hide behind the statute of limitations to defeat legitimate claims by victims of child sexual abuse.

 2. Sentencing

 “It is unacceptable that the law is telling judges to sentence child sexual abusers based on the flawed and uninformed community attitudes of the 1960s or 1970s.

 “Of course judges must apply the law from the time the offence occurred, but the range of sentences must be informed by what the community now knows about the damaging impact of child abuse, not past unenlightened views.

“Without this sentencing reform judges are bound by common law to continue to deliver unjustly short sentences for historical child abuse.

“The community can’t have faith in a justice system that has to pretend it’s in the dark ages to sentence child abusers from the 1960s or 70s – judges should represent the community of today not 40 years ago. 

3. The Ellis defence

“Why should the community accept that the Catholic Church cannot be sued and that it doesn’t exist in the eyes of the law – of course it exists, of course it has assets, and if it has caused harm, it should be able to be sued.

“A law that quarantines an organisation’s wealth from legitimate claims by victims is itself an abuse.  Parliament has the power to change that, and where an organisation is at fault, it should pay,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Media contact: David Shoebridge  0408 113 952 or (02) 9230 3030

David Shoebridge

Greens MP in the NSW Legislative Council

P: (02) 9230 3030 T: @ShoebridgeMLC


NSW Parliament House, Macquarie Street Sydney NSW, 2000 Australia


One hopes for a packed gallery in the NSW parliament at the appropriate time. As one astute person explained to me today, in words to this effect, there is considerable power in members of the public supporting reforms such as these actually turning up to parliament, sitting in the gallery, and eye-balling members of parliament who may be inclined to vote against much-needed legislation.

These reforms are urgently needed, and, as noted in the release, will ultimately benefit not just victims of the Catholic Church, but those of other institutions as well, such as the Salvation Army.

Although this package is, by necessity, confined to New South Wales, it is highly relevant to people in other Australian states and the territories. If the Greens’ legislation goes through in New South Wales, hopefully it will be followed by successful introduction of similar packages in other jurisdictions.

Aletha Blayse

[Postscript: Fans of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister would ‘get’ the reference in the picture above, but for those who’ve yet to experience the great pleasure of these television series, the dialogue is a reference to bureaucrat, Sir Humphrey Appleby (pictured left talking with (Prime) Minister, Jim Hacker to his right), imparting an important lesson to his young protege, Bernard Woolley:

Sir Humphrey: “If you want to be really sure that the Minister doesn’t accept it, you must say the decision is “courageous”.

Bernard: “And that’s worse than “controversial”?”

Sir Humphrey: “Oh, yes! “Controversial” only means “this will lose you votes”. Courageous” means “this will lose you the election”!”

The point is this: In addition to people turning up to parliament at the appropriate time, extremely vocal, visible, and early expressions of public support for the 3-point reform package would be welcome to demonstrate to fence-sitting or potentially hostile parliamentarians (and their advisers) that the public wants these changes, and won’t forget any sitting member who doesn’t support the package … particularly at election time. What’s your local MP got to say on the subject?].

Read more here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Australian Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson Charged (Or: Touchdown!)

A smiling Archbishop Philip Wilson

Image: Archbishop Philip Wilson being chauffeur-driven away from the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide yesterday (Source: Herald Sun, 17 March, 2015). [Author’s note: Is that a Rolex, Phil? Might wanna pawn it, babe; Ian Temby QC don’t come cheap, and I hear Pope Francis is on some sort of economy drive or something, new Vatican ‘financial czar’ Cardinal George Pell’s embarrassing shopaholism notwithstanding.]

For a tiny country at the ass-end of the world, Australia occasionally punches well above its weight.

It did so yesterday, making world headlines in the process.

In a day that may just end up, in years to come, overshadowing the anniversaries of other Australian world firsts such as the much-celebrated invention of cask wine, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson (pictured above) was yesterday formally charged with a “charge of concealing a serious indictable offence” (The Australian, 17 March, 2015).

As stated in The Australian newspaper (17 March, 2015), Wilson is “the most senior Catholic official worldwide to face court over a criminal allegation of this type.”

Briefly, the charges relate to Wilson’s response to (deceased) priest Jim Fletcher, who sexually abused several children, and Wilson’s alleged failure to report Fletcher to the police. [See ‘Read more here’ below for more information].

Naturally, and as predictably emphasised by the Catholic Church hierarchy and its supporters, the presumption of innocence applies to Archbishop Wilson, who denies the allegations made against him. He may be found to be as innocent as the children Fletcher abused. Time will tell, but hopefully not too much time. Forty years or so have already elapsed.

Wilson is due to first appear in court on 30 April this year. While Wilson’s colleague, Archbishop Denis (‘Go to Hell, Bitch’) Hart, the Archbishop of Melbourne and the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, has said, “I hope that this matter will be resolved without undue delay,” one hopes for the sake of Fletcher’s victims, and not for the Catholic Church, which has the funds of the Vatican Bank to help bankroll a long trial if Wilson can’t get a good deal on his possessions at Cash Converters, that the court proceedings won’t descend into a horrible, drawn-out ordeal for victims and their families.

One also hopes that, perhaps at some point during the coming trial, if not now, someone a bit higher up in the Catholic Church hierarchy might have the decency to force Archbishop Wilson to stand down from his position until the matter is resolved, rather than allow him to maintain his current ‘leave of absence’.

Anyway, non-sports-fans in Oz rarely have occasion to feel remotely jingoistic about this country, but yesterday was an exception. The laying of charges, whatever happens from now, against Wilson marks a significant turning point in the ‘war’ against child abuse in Australia and elsewhere. It shows that Australia has finally moved beyond rounding up the smaller fry, and is prepared to move against people much higher up in the ranks of institutions with unpardonable practices in failing to protect children over decades. One hopes this is only the beginning.

Yesterday was also significant because the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse also handed down quite damning findings about the Salvation Army in relation to four boys’ ‘homes’ run by the Salvation Army in New South Wales and Queensland, hopefully delivering at least a little comfort to the organisation’s victims. As good as it is to see Salvation Army victims of these ‘homes’ get official recognition of their awful suffering, that can’t be the end of this particular chapter in Australian history either. In particular, there’s another ‘big man’ I’d dearly like to see charged soon too – Australian Salvation Army Eastern Territorial head, ‘Commissioner’ James (‘Jimmy’) Condon – in relation to alleged child abuser Colin Haggar and Condon’s response to Haggar’s appalling revelations (see here for more on this). More on this and the Royal Commission’s findings about the Salvation Army another day, when time permits a thorough examination and discussion of the findings.

For now, though, to the various people who made yesterday’s momentous day happen: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi! May you finally see justice – and soon.

Archbishop Wilson and Easter Eggs

Image: Archbishop Philip Wilson, chatting last year to a journo about tram travel, Easter eggs, and (cask?) wine (Source: Adelaide Now, 16 April, 2014). [Author’s note: Wilson said last year, “People are very generous to me, people do give me Easter eggs. I do get a lot of bottles of wine, too. They understand that wine is a better recipe for a diabetic than Easter eggs!” I’m sure Australian prisons cater to diabetics, but I’m not sure if Easter eggs or wine (even on Saint Patrick’s Day) are dispensed to inmates as a matter of course. If Wilson is “disappointed” now, sadly, he may be in for some more disappointments if he gets the maximum 2-year custodial sentence following a successful conviction.]

Aletha Blayse

[Postscript: There is absolutely no truth to the rumour that a flushed Prime Minister Tony Abbott was overheard to exclaim in the early hours of this morning, following consumption of a large quantity of green cask wine, that, “Any boss who sacks  any Catholic-clergy abuse victim for not turning up today is a bum.”]

Read more here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bilgrimage Article on a US Inquiry into Child Abuse

Dear reader,

Please click on this link to read an article I wrote recently for the American blog Bilgrimage on why President Obama should conduct an inquiry in the United States similar to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Kind regards,

Aletha Blayse



Twitter: @alethabe

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Victims and Lawyers (Or: He Who Pays the Piper …)


Some form of legal representation is an excellent idea when negotiating with institutions who’ve harmed you. There are, however, certain difficulties that may arise. While the majority of the legal profession may act completely ethically, unfortunately there will always be rogue operators who do not necessarily act in the best interests of their clients in dealing with institutions responsible for child abuse.

Lawyers owe a duty of care to their clients. While there are many fine lawyers who act for people engaging in compensation negotiations with institutions, sadly, not all act in ideal ways. Over the years, I’ve heard of instances in which lawyers / law firms have engaged in conduct such as:   

  • Overcharging.
  • ‘Talking big’ at the beginning of the relationship, before a retainer agreement is signed, and then pursuing the client for fees when the client refuses to accept an offer from an institution that is substantially lower than the sort of outcome discussed in the ‘honeymoon period’ in which the lawyer is signing the client up. In some cases, clients have even ended up worse off than they were before they signed up the lawyer because the lawyer has not been able to achieve a better outcome than what the institution initially offered, but the client has ended up with less because they have to pay the lawyer’s fees out of the settlement!
  • Consciously or unconsciously acting more in the interests of the institution than the client. 
  1. Conscious conduct may include receiving financial payments from institutions in out-of-court negotiations to convince clients that the maximum payout achievable is what the institution is offering, when in fact a court settlement may well lead to a far higher payout. 
  2. Unconscious conduct may occur when a lawyer has had or intends to have ongoing dealings with an institution, and is less than ideally vigorous in pursuance of their client’s interests. This may be because at the back of their mind is a desire to maintain relatively harmonious relationships with the institution and its legal representatives to facilitate easier dealings in the future. This problem may only become apparent when the client becomes more assertive with the lawyer when resisting acceptance of a low payout from an institution and is pressured into accepting it. 
  • Engaging in conduct designed to manipulate the client into accepting a low offer from an institution. For example, years ago, I spoke with a man who’d engaged a solicitor on ‘spec’. This man was in a dire financial situation. The solicitor lent him money from her own reserves to ‘tide him over’ until a satisfactory settlement was obtained from the institution. When a ridiculously low offer was made by the institution (much lower than anticipated) and this man refused to accept it, the solicitor became very pushy about the man accepting the offer so she could be paid back. He ended up accepting it because he valued his good name (he was in business) and was afraid that she would speak negatively about him as a person who reneged on his debts.

When engaging a lawyer or law firm, you should be aware of your rights and keep your eyes wide open. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you expect from your lawyer. Consult widely and speak to a number of lawyers before settling upon one. Talk to other people who’ve had dealings with the lawyer or law firm you’re considering retaining and see what they have to say about outcomes received. Examine the retainer agreement you’re given and if you don’t understand anything in it, or want to change something in it, don’t be afraid to raise this with the lawyer. Resistance to a reasonable request may be an early warning sign that you’re not going to have a good outcome with this lawyer or firm.  

Remember: Your lawyer / law firm is there to act in your best interests; not their own, and not those of others!

Finally, if you encounter a problem of any of the types outlined above, or just want a bit of guidance, there are bodies / resources that exist to help you. For more information, see these links:

Aletha Blayse



Twitter: @alethabe


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Daddy’s Day (Or: The Suffering Must End Now)

daddy and cactus
It’s Father’s Day today. In our family, we’ve always called it Daddy’s Day. There’s a fridge magnet on my father’s fridge that says, “Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a Daddy.” My brother, sister and I always called my father “Daddy.” It was one of the ways we tried to communicate to him how much we loved him and how precious he was to us. For me, it was my way of reminding him that I treasured every minute of my life with him, and still loved him as unreservedly and completely in adulthood as I did when I was a little girl and he was the brightest light in my life. I loved Daddy’s Day so much. It was the only day of the year that my father didn’t make a fuss about being given anything or tell his kids that we shouldn’t have spent any money on him.  

My father’s life was not easy. It was never going to be. The damage done was too great. He woke every day of his life in terror thinking he was still in the Alkira / Indooroopilly Salvation Army Boys’ Home. He told me about this around eight years ago. I tried to break whatever terrible loop was still going on his mind decades after his abuse by being ready at the prearranged time every day for the seven years I lived with him with a cup of coffee, a knock on his door, and the most cheerful “Hey Daddy, would you like a cup of coffee?” I could muster. I didn’t know what else to do. It was futile, but it was something.

The day before my father died, the television crew from the ABC had come up and filmed and interviewed him. My father was ecstatic when they’d left. He had lost hope that he’d ever achieve justice from the Salvation Army. His hope had sprung anew. He believed, and he was right to do so, that the Salvation Army only ever did anything remotely good for people when its reputation (and thereby its money) were at stake – when people were watching. He felt that with the spotlight on the organisation once more, there was a chance again at real justice. And not just for him, but for all the Home Boys, and all the others. These things flow on, he said. If he could achieve proper compensation, he’d shout it from the rooftops, whether or not he signed a confidentiality agreement (“Let the bastards try and sue me – they couldn’t!” he said one night), and all the other institutions (and government) would have to follow suit, or be seen to be left behind. We bought a bottle of non-alcoholic wine at the IGA, ready for the day we’d crack it open and celebrate.

He wanted $3.3 million from the Salvation Army. $100,000 for each year of the 33 years he was unable to work due to profound disability emanating from the multiple traumas he experienced at Alkira. I’d spent quite a few years talking with my father about his low expectations and low self-esteem. I only ever approached the topic gently, primarily because I didn’t want him to have a new thing to feel badly about himself and also because although we had a fairly frank way of speaking with each other, there’s only so far I felt it appropriate for a daughter to speak to a father about his way of looking at the world. I backed away completely from the topic after one bad day when he told me how stupid he felt at having signed away his rights to go after the Salvation Army for a mere $30,000 – approximately $1,000 for each year in which he was unable to work – around $3/day.

When he told me weeks before he died that he was going to go back to the Salvation Army again and demand the justice he truly deserved, I was pretty ecstatic too. I’d suspected he might say this after all the posts he’d been writing about the Salvation Army, but it was still a great surprise, and a happy one. Because it meant he’d finally shucked off the shame and self-blame he’d lived with for most of his adult life, and had stopped blaming himself and calling himself stupid for what had happened with Peter Farthing. Because his years of stating that it was futile to try for justice were over. Because I thought maybe we’d get some comfort and security. Because I’d started to dream of some good times ahead after so many years of pain. He said, though, that there was a lot of work ahead. We needed to rest up.

The day the crew from the ABC 7:30 Report people came up, I’d been awake for nearly two days mucking around with his blog, trying to get it in tip-top shape because I knew more people would be reading it after his television appearance, and I wanted it to be better organised than it was. Some time after the crew had left, in the late afternoon, Daddy told me to go to sleep. I didn’t want to, because I wanted to listen to him talk to a newspaper journalist (I think it was the Guardian Australian edition) who was going to call him so I could keep on top of what was happening and provide better assistance with his next moves (and learn about how the media works, as he said this was an important thing for me to learn), but he said I was in some sort of danger if I didn’t sleep after being awake for so long (I can’t remember the words he used – as a trained scientist’s daughter, I have an appallingly bad grasp of science).

So I went to bed. A bit annoyed, but happier than I’d felt for a long time. Daddy stayed up to wait for the journalist’s call. He promised he’d go to sleep as soon as he’d talked to her. He was exhausted too, but I wasn’t worried because he’d had more sleep than I had and the journalist was due to call very soon, and he was going to go to sleep after that. Before I went to bed, I made him a cup of chocolate Sustagen and left it in the fridge and made him promise to have it before he went to sleep. I felt badly because I should have made something a bit more substantial and said I wanted to make something better and leave it in the fridge for after he’d talked to the journalist. He told me to stop fussing and go to sleep.

I went to bed happy and optimistic. My father not only had made a fundamental shift in his thinking about himself, he also felt happy and optimistic about the future! As I was drifting off to sleep, I panicked for a minute because I realised I’d forgotten to ask him when he wanted to be woken up so I could set my alarm 10 minutes earlier than the time he specified, get up, get him a coffee, and be ready with my usual “Hey Daddy, would you like a cup of coffee?” Then, I decided it would be okay to skip that because he was so happy he might not actually wake in terror tomorrow. Then I wasn’t sure and thought about getting up again and asking him. But then I fell asleep.

I woke very early in the morning to the sounds of the birds. I don’t remember ever having slept so well, and it was the first time in a very long time I didn’t wake up feeling worried sick about just about everything. I was itching to know how it went with the newspaper journalist. As I came out of my room, I saw my father sitting on the lounge-room floor, head bowed, near the phone, which was sitting on the table near him. I’ve seen him fall asleep in this position before, so I wasn’t alarmed. I just thought how uncomfortable he looked, and decided to wake him up and get him to go to bed so he wouldn’t wake up aching from being all hunched up. I went over to him and said, “Hey Daddy, would you like a cup of coffee?” I didn’t have a cup of coffee ready. I don’t even know why I said it. I just said it as I had for seven years.

I learned somewhere in childhood, I can’t remember exactly when, that Daddy got a bit uncomfortable when people touched him. I’m of a slightly anxious bent, particularly when it came to my father’s welfare, so I probably overreacted a bit when I stopped hugging him. I always tried to err on the side of caution with him when there was any risk of hurting him. I can’t remember when this was that I made the decision not to hug him. I do remember that when I was a teenager, I overheard him talking to my mother about how being close to people made him throw up, and I was pleased to have worked out for myself about the importance of not being too physically close to him so I wouldn’t make him sick, so it was at least 26 years ago. I don’t even remember what precipitated this either, but I also got the impression somewhere along the line that the words “I love you” made him uncomfortable. There were dozens of things like that; things that couldn’t be done or said because of what had been done to him in childhood. Things like his discomfort with cupboard doors on big cupboards being completely closed, which he never explained to me and I only worked out when I realised that he’d get up and open the big pantry door and wedge it open a crack every time I closed it all the way. All sorts of weird things that I just picked up on over the years. Some things I could work out where they came from. Some things I couldn’t figure out why I was doing what I did, but just did things to make sure he wasn’t upset.

For years, I wanted to hug my father and say “I love you, Daddy,” but I couldn’t, so I just fussed instead, hoping he’d know how much I cared. I overdid it sometimes, but I didn’t mind when he told me to stop fussing, because it was better to err on the side of too much fussing versus not enough, especially after I also worked out just how little he thought he deserved pretty much anything.

When I saw him that morning, apparently asleep but uncomfortable, I asked him a bit louder about the coffee. Sometimes I had to call out a few times before he heard me when he was asleep in his room. He didn’t wake up. I sat by him for a couple of minutes trying to decide if it would be okay to touch him because he really did look so uncomfortable and he’d told me how important it was that we both be well rested because there could well be a lot more media activity, and that this can be very debilitating. So I did what I hadn’t done for at least 26 years, if not longer. I touched him gently on the shoulder, and again said, “Hey Daddy, would you like a cup of coffee.” I’m not sure what made me do it, but when he didn’t respond, I pushed him gently. He didn’t move. I raised my voice and yelled “Daddy.” I took him by the shoulders and tried to shake him. His body was stiff. I grabbed his hand. It was cold.

I don’t know how long I was there with him. I remember screaming, over and over, “Wake up,” and trying to shake him awake. I’m not sure how long I did that. Maybe an hour. Maybe ten minutes. I don’t know. At some point, I stopped screaming, and wrapped my arms around him, with my head resting on his shoulder, and said, “I love you Daddy.” I said it over and over. I am not sure how long.

For months, I’ve been enraged, frantic, frenetic, crazy. In some part of my mind, my father has just been away, but not really gone. He was going to come back. I just had to continue the fight, and when I’d won, he’d come back. I didn’t voice those words in my head. It was just how my heart was speaking. I ran out the back when the people from the funeral parlour came to get him. I kept my eyes closed shut as they lowered his coffin into the ground. I stayed in Brisbane. I was afraid to be home. I planned to fight and win, and return home. I didn’t consciously think that he’d be there waiting for me, but on some deep level, I did. Because one of the things he said to me the day before he died was, “We’ve won, Aletha!” 

Then I came home. To our home. Before I left, I took a few things, including his reading glasses, which I’ve kept by my side ever since. When I came back, it was okay for a while. It was okay until I noticed through the window that his favourite mandarin tree was in full fruit. That’s when it all came crashing down, and the pain swelled so horribly I thought my heart might stop too. I hoped it would, it hurt so much. I wandered around the property for a while, looking for him. I knew that was crazy, but I did it anyway.   

For a long time, I thought I was going crazy, because all I could think about, no matter how hard I tried to stop thinking this way, was how desperately I want just one more chance to hold my father and say, “I love you Daddy.” How I didn’t have to call the police so quickly. How I could have held him for the whole day if I wanted, saying “I love you, Daddy” thousands of times to make up for the thousands of times I couldn’t hug him or tell him, not just show him, how much I loved him, when he was alive. How I could have had that.

When I returned home, I positioned the couch I like to sleep on over the spot where I found him that day. When I go to sleep, I imagine that I’m hugging him and saying, “I love you Daddy” and he’s saying everything’s going to be just fine. I know this way of thinking is the path to madness, and I push the thought down as hard as I can every time it pops up. But still, I keep wishing I could go back in time and start all over again, from the time I took it into my own head to try to do things right by my father. Instead of saying, “Hey Daddy, would you like a cup of coffee?” all those years, I should have just asked him if it was okay to give him a hug and say, “I love you Daddy.” It might have been okay after all. I will never know.

These have not been good times. There have been times since I came home that I’ve been tempted to just stop the fight with the Salvation Army. I’m sick of reading about them. I’m sick of thinking about them. I’m sick of their games. I’m sick of their delaying tactics. I’m sick of their lies. Now that I’ve stopped pretending my father isn’t really gone, and now that the thing I want most is for my father to please come back, I have wondered why I am bothering to fight the compensation fight at all. Because nothing’s going to bring Daddy back. And then I snap out of it. Because this matters.  

If I don’t continue to fight, I will lose the home I’ve been in for nearly eight years, seven of which were with my father. His spirit is here. When I walk around the house or the grounds, I remember him and things he said, all the wisdom he imparted. I think of things he talked about when we were standing in a particular spot. I look at the trees we planted, and remember how we both looked forward to seeing them grow and bear fruit or flower. The day before he died, when he was walking around the garden, I discovered the first pear on one of the pear trees we planted. We’d waited years for that. He was so excited. It hurts sometimes, walking around the garden, and often I break down when I realise I can’t turn around and talk to him, but it also helps too, because he is still here in spirit, and I can feel his presence everywhere.

There’s a part of me that wonders if it’s the right thing to do to stay here. A number of people have suggested that it might be good for me to go and live somewhere else. But I’m terrified of forgetting a single thing about my father and the conversations we had here. I’m terrified of being in a new environment and not having all the visual cues that make things he said and images of him spring to mind. I won’t let that be taken from me. This week, I had to have my father’s Chihuahua, Cactus, put down. She contracted parvo virus. She was very old, and I knew that I might not have her for much longer, but it was still a shock. I am just glad that my father didn’t have to see it. I only saw my father in tears a few times in his life. One was when Cactus had a seizure and we thought she was dying. She was a special link to my father. Now she’s gone, there’s only this place.  

After a week or so of feeling numb and helpless in the face of an absence of a positive response to my family’s claim from the Salvation Army, and despite a recent reassurance by our family’s solicitor that things were looking promising (promises mean nothing – actions are all that matter, and there haven’t been any yet), I started to prepare for the worst. I figured I might just be able to handle what’s ahead by taking photos that I could take with me wherever I end up. So for a few days now, since I buried Cactus, I’ve been walking around taking 100s of photos of every single part of the house and grounds, from all different angles, in the hope that I’ll be able to look at them in the future and never forget a word Daddy said to me. I was also going to start taking cuttings of all the trees we planted together so that wherever I ended up next, a part of this place would always be with me.

But tonight, I feel differently. I’m angry. The Salvation Army knows how special this place is to me. I’m damned if I am going to give up now. And I’m angry because my family is suffering, and there’s no reason for it. They want and need me to fight, but are feeling the strain, and this just makes me angrier. I haven’t written much about this, but the Salvation Army has played with my family and me as though we were mice and they a cruel cat. We’ve had overtures and invitations. We’ve had offers made and implied promises of better treatment that have then been whisked away from us. Much nodding of heads, but nothing concrete. Promises to supporters that our needs will be met have been made and then nothing. All of this has worn me down, but I haven’t minded. I’ve been worn down before. I’m fairly tough. I am ready for years of this fight if necessary, which is what it’s looking like being. I now met people who’ve had to fight for years. If they can, so can I. Because it’s my job, as the eldest child, to fight for what my father wanted for his family – compensation for his family for his “psychological death.”   

Just as importantly, however, it’s important to keep fighting because there’s a broader issue at stake. All along, I have wanted to establish a precedent that would flow on to other people who’ve been hurt the way my father was hurt and the way our family has suffered. I fought this battle to this point in a very public manner for a good reason, even though I knew it was making things harder for my family and me. If I win for our family, and fulfil my father’s wishes, I will expect the Salvation Army to go on and do what it should have done for all its victims. I will not be silenced by a confidentiality agreement. All lives destroyed must be healed. All harm done must be addressed. That’s how my father wanted things.

When I spoke with Peter Farthing last time I was in Sydney recently, he told me that there were issues to do with “organisational resources.” My rejoinder was that if the extent of harm inflicted by the organisation upon society was so great that organisational resources were insufficient to undo it, then a good case could be made that the Salvation Army doesn’t deserve to operate in our society. They stole the best part of my father’s life. They treated him with utter contempt. They had so many opportunities to do the right thing and didn’t. They didn’t even have the decency to admit that they were wrong after he had died. I had to fight when I should not have. They continue to get away with treating their victims and the families who are affected with utter contempt and who are made to fight for what should be given without hesitation. Their proclaimed ‘restorative justice’ approach is meaningless. It’s meaningless because there is no detail in it. It’s meaningless because it was not developed in consultation with victims and their families. It’s meaningless because there is nothing that says that the organisation takes lifelong responsibility for all forms of harm inflicted upon victims and their families. The devil is in the detail, and there is absolutely no detail in the Salvation Army’s stance towards victims, just vague statements that sound great until you think about what was done to victims and what isn’t being done for them.

I offered to help the Salvation Army develop a better response to victims and their families. That offer hasn’t been taken up. I can only think of a few things now, but with real consultation with victims, this list would grow, but here are some things that the Salvation Army should be doing, but isn’t:

  • Providing all necessary medical / dental attention (for life, if needed) to victims brutally treated in its homes or elsewhere who sustained lifelong injuries / health problems or were denied medical / dental attention when needed (this would have to include things like unlimited therapies to reduce pain and improve quality of life);
  • Meeting the cost of lifelong, unlimited counselling to victims and their families (with no restrictions on choice of provider);
  • Meeting the cost of in-home care and home modifications to homes victims approaching old age, many of whom have expressed the sentiment that they would kill themselves before being put in an aged care facility;
  • Meeting all costs required (including income support during the period of education) for any victim denied an education or whose education was negatively affected by abuse to be trained / educated in any area they choose;
  • Providing housing to homeless victims or victims in poor housing conditions;
  • Providing financial compensation to victims who have been unable to work, whether for a part or whole of their lives, because of the damage done to them;
  • Reimbursing victims whose parents were charged money for them to be ‘cared’ for in Salvation Army homes;
  • Compensating and caring for families who lost breadwinners due to suicide, early death brought on by the accumulated effects of childhood abuse, or who live but cannot work;
  • Paying, with compound interest, unpaid wages owed to men and women who were used as slave labour as children;
  • Compensating victims who helped build the wealth of the Salvation Army through the provision of unpaid work by providing them with a share of the increased value they added to Salvation Army properties;
  • Providing unlimited funding for any victim struggling with drug and / all alcohol problems to receive treatment for their problems (and no, not at a Salvation Army facility!); and
  • Compensating victims forced to take low-paying jobs because they were denied an education in ‘care’.

I don’t know how many chances should be given to the Salvation Army before declaring that it can no longer be trusted to deal appropriately with its 1000s of victims. Where things now stand, in the absence of any immediate and real commitment to extensive consultation and then detailed and real, satisfactory responses to the needs of victims and their families, I strongly believe that it’s time for the matter of handling victims’ needs to be taken from the Salvation Army and vested in the hands of a panel of independent experts and victims who truly understand what needs to be done to make things right, and who have the power to force the Salvation Army to do it. It’s for the Salvation Army to come up with ways to meet its responsibilities. Beg, borrow, fundraise, and sell assets until everything is made right. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, it must be done. And done now. And if the Salvation Army doesn’t start doing it now, government must force it to do so. No-one should have to endure a day more of needless suffering.

[Postscript: Tonight, at 6.30 pm on ABC’s Compass religious affairs program, is the first of a two-part special on the Salvation Army. Given that its producer, John Cleary, is a Salvo, I don’t hold out much hope of a particularly truthful view of what’s really happening in the Salvation Army, but one never knows. The details of the show are here: If you’ve been harmed by the Salvation Army, or someone you love has been, please consider getting on the discussion boards during and after the program and having your say, here:]

Aletha Blayse



Twitter: @alethabe


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sydney Salvos Protest Resumes: 8-15 August, 2014

Hi there, 

She’s back! 

Stephanie Calabornes has made a good recovery, and is coming back for another round with the Salvos, again in Sydney, outside their headquarters at 140 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. 

This time, Stephanie’s protest will go for a week. 

As always, if you’re inspired by protests such as this, and want to mount your own, please get in touch via this site or for assistance promoting your protest. 

And of course if you’d like to join Stephanie, even if just for an hour or so, please do. 

As before, I’ll be Tweeting images from Stephanie’s protest throughout the duration of the protest, as well as placing them on the White Shield Appeal Protests page on the White Shield Appeal website.

Good wishes, Stephanie!

Kind regards,


Aletha Blayse

Twitter: @alethab

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Sydney Salvos Protest: It’s the Beginning, Not the End

pic 3

Dear readers,

This post is to announce that unfortunately Stephanie Calabornes will not be able to continue her Protests due to ill health brought on in part by the intensity of her activities and in part by the additional level of stress induced by the Salvation Army’s heavy-handed behaviour that has had a detrimental effect on her stress levels (and therefore health) as well.

Stephanie withstood several attempts to stray her from her course, including threats of being sued, personal slurs on her name, and the police being called on two occasions, which, although patently ridiculous, were nevertheless highly stressful. She took these in her stride, and saw these efforts for what they were – attempts to muzzle her voice and stop her speaking out about problems in the Salvation Army. When the police were unnecessarily called because the Salvation Army didn’t like one of her placards (see previous posting: Sydney Salvos Protest: Salvos Object to Protest Placard, Call Police), she even resolved to protest longer than originally planned, because she wanted to show the Salvation Army that this sort of tactic simply wasn’t going to work.

When I called Stephanie the other night, however, the strain and exhaustion in her voice were evident. Stephanie is one of the proudest people I know, and she is, from what I’ve learned in the short time I’ve known her, not the sort of person who feels comfortable talking about things that are causing her problems in her own life. She spends most of her time standing up for other people or speaking out about injustice, and tends to minimise her own difficulties. It was only the other night that I learned that Stephanie has chronic lymphatic leukaemia, amongst other health complaints. I’d known she had a difficult childhood, including time in an orphanage, and that she had been assaulted at a Salvation Army centre as an adult, but not the full extent of the traumas she’s endured throughout her life, or her health issues. I had enormous respect for Stephanie already, but now have an even greater level of respect for her in pushing on for as long as she did, and for speaking out on the issues that matter despite it all.

Naturally, Stephanie was incredibly disappointed about not being in a position to continue with her protest (it took a good couple of hours to convince her it was okay to stop and that she wasn’t letting anyone down if she did!!), but I’m grateful that she put herself first in this case. I’m not sure she believed me when I said that she’d already achieved an incredible amount in the time she was protesting, but I hope she will, in time, come to see just how much she achieved in the 12 days she was able to maintain her protest.

Here are just some of the things that Stephanie achieved:

  • Stephanie (and the wonderful people who came to join her on various days) handed out an estimated 3,500 leaflets, thus expanding dramatically the number of people who will now hopefully go to the White Shield Appeal campaign ( website to learn more about aspects of the Salvation Army that the organisation would prefer that people not think about.
  • Even people who did not take a leaflet saw the protest signs and came away with an understanding that there are people who have serious issues with the Salvation Army and these people will hopefully do some research of their own to learn more about problems in the Salvation Army.
  • Several members of the public who were not at all familiar with problems within the Salvation Army stopped to talk to Stephanie to find out more about why she was protesting, and will now hopefully go away and talk to friends, family, and work colleagues, etc., about what they were told and thus spread the message that all is not good with the Salvation Army.
  • Several people stopped to talk to Stephanie to tell her about problems they too had experienced in their dealings with the Salvation Army (including several who provided further confirmation of the things Stephanie was saying), and many of these people have now gotten in touch asking what they can do to assist with future protests or actions or simply to speak about other problems of which I was not aware.
  • The Salvation Army conceded part-way through the protest that it needed to look into the matters raised in two new petitions on the White Shield Appeal campaign website ( – plaques on girls’ homes and not wearing triggering uniforms near people abused by Salvation Army members (including at the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse). I very much doubt that without the high level of attention on the organisation during Stephanie’s protest there would have been even the small concessions that have occurred (please check back on this petitions for updates on these petitions).
  • Stephanie engaged in conversations with a few members of the Salvation Army who, it is hoped, have come away with a greater appreciation of the concerns of the community and (hopefully) attempt to get others in the organisation to see that things need to be done differently.
  • Stephanie engaged in conversations with several people who, although not members of the Salvation Army, support it, but need to know that there are people the Salvation Army has harmed and who are still being treated badly. Again, it is hoped that these people will also do something to attempt to bring about change within the Salvation Army, perhaps by Tell the Salvation Army senior members and expressing themselves.

This post is to thank Stephanie for the incredible work that she has done over the last fortnight, under extremely taxing conditions. It is also to thank the wonderful people who joined Stephanie at various times throughout her protest and to all of the people who promoted or talked about the protest on Twitter and facebook and through emails. It is also to thank the wonderful people who emailed or phoned through to say how much they appreciated what Stephanie was doing. 

The job for now is to build on Stephanie’s efforts to keep the ball rolling. I and others who have offered to help will now turn our attention to this. The White Shield Appeal campaign website is now reasonably sufficiently established to provide a platform for people who have concerns about the Salvation Army to do things such as:

  • Have a central platform to promote petitions demanding changes (we will help you by promoting your petition as widely as we can);
  • Have a central platform to promote future protests against the Salvation Army (we will help you by promoting your planned protests to the media and on social media); and
  • Have a way of showing others how even relatively low-involvement actions (‘acts of resistance’) such as (e.g.) sticking up posters on community noticeboards asking people to (e.g.) go and look at the White Shield Appeal campaign website can be powerful tools for raising awareness in the community of problems with the Salvation Army.

Over coming weeks, I’ll be getting in touch with all who have contacted me throughout Stephanie’s protest and seeing what we can do to help in various ways, and not just in the ways listed above. If you haven’t already contacted me and want to be kept updated by email about things like planned protests, new petitions, etc., please get in touch via the Contact page on this site to let me know you want to be kept in the loop, and I’ll add you to my mailing list. More importantly, if you have been inspired by Stephanie’s protest, and want to take some form of action of your own (e.g., start a petition, mount a protest, etc.), and want a hand with ideas or anything else, please also get in touch. 

As I said to Stephanie last night when she was expressing her distress that this would be the end of things, “Don’t think of this as the end; it’s only the beginning.”


Aletha Blayse

Twitter: @alethab

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Sydney Salvos Protest: Salvos Object to Protest Placard, Call Police

As readers of this blog would know (see previous posting), there is currently a protest underway by social justice campaigner, Stephanie Calabornes. Until yesterday, things were going very well, with a commendable level of cooperation from the Salvation Army, and ‘Major’ Bruce Harmer, Eastern Territorial PR head, pictured below.

bruce harmer

Image: ‘Major’ Bruce Harmer

Ms Calabornes, pictured below, has been protesting day and night since the 17th of July against the Salvation Army. She has cooperated at every turn with the wishes of the Salvation Army in relation to matters of contention such as: (a) where to store her sleeping bag and blankets; (b) the location of placards leaning against the Salvation Army’s building; and (c) not using sticky tape to put up protest signs on the Salvation Army building. Ms Calabornes even kept her cool when a Salvation Army staffer took away one a protest sign brought along by another protester (see below).

frank sign

Image: Protest sign placed by another protester and confiscated by Salvation Army staff


Despite the Salvation Army unnecessarily calling the police on Tuesday because of the sticky tape incident (the police left without charging Ms Calabornes), Ms Calabornes remained calm and determined to see out her protest.


support survivors

Image: Stephanie Calabornes holds up a protest sign

Yesterday, around 1.30 pm, Ms Calabornes was confronted again by Mr Harmer who voiced objection to a new placard Ms Calabornes brought along, shown below being held up by another protester, who joined Ms Calabornes for a time, and in closer detail. This placard called for ‘Major’ Peter Farthing to stand down from the Salvation Army. 

pic 24

Image: Protest supporter holds up the placard that upset ‘Major’ Bruce Harmer

pic 21

Image: Close-up of the placard that upsetMajor’ Bruce Harmer

Ms Calabornes explained to Mr Harmer that the sign was a reasonable one and was intended to draw attention to the following matters (which she hoped to discuss in more detail with any member of the public who might have walked past and viewed the placard):

  • That Mr Farthing was involved in counselling, for 18 months, self-confessed child abuser, Mr Colin Haggar (Mr Farthing, pictured below, is not reported as having made any attempt to bring Mr Haggar to the police at any stage during this period);
  • That Mr Farthing personally recommended that Mr Haggar be re-accepted for officership within the Salvation Army after this period of counselling; and
  • That the Salvation Army helped Colin Haggar in 2002 apply for a Working With Children Check, without disclosing his previous confession of abuse, and that Mr Farthing knew that Mr Haggar had obtained clearance but did nothing at the time.

PETER farthing

Image: ‘Major’ Peter Farthing, who counselled self-confessed child abuser, Colin Haggar and personally recommended his re-acceptance to the Salvation Army

These matters have been widely reported in the media (see the Articles page on, as Mr Harmer would know.

According to Ms Calabornes, Mr Harmer then rejoined, indicating that the placard needed to be changed to be more specific. In the spirit of cooperation, Ms Calabornes then altered the placard to be more specific to refer to the Colin Haggar matter – see below.

amended farthing sign

Image: Amended protest sign, changed at request of ‘Major’ Bruce Harmer

Mr Harmer came back outside to check the new placard and again disputed its accuracy. Ms Calabornes insisted that it was appropriate, and refused to change or remove it. Mr Harmer then informed her that he was going to call the police.

Mr Harmer then called the police, who arrived approximately one hour later. Ms Calabornes provided her details to the police, who spent approximately 20 minutes inside the Salvation Army building. When the police came back outside, Ms Calabornes talked to the police about Mr Farthing and invited them to read the transcripts and statements on the website of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, particularly those from the Case Study 10 hearings.

The police again left without charging Ms Calabornes (although Ms Calabornes reports that she was warned that she was in danger of being sued by the Salvation Army, something that does not concern her at all).


After today’s events, Ms Calabornes is now even more determined to see out her protest until the 31st of July. This is because there is now a new issue that needs to be talked about, and that is the heavy-handed way in which the Salvation Army now appears to be dealing with those who express views that the Army is not comfortable hearing (or seeing).  

The gross overreaction of Mr Harmer and the Salvation Army to Ms Calabornes’ protest is disappointing. The slogan of the Salvation Army in Australia is, “We’re about people finding freedom.” After what happened yesterday, however, it is clear that this does not extend to freedom of speech.

people finding freedom

Image: The Salvation Army’s Australian slogan (NB: exceptions now apply)

It is hoped that Mr Harmer will not waste police time for a third time by calling them again today if he sees a sign that he (or anyone else in the organisation) simply doesn’t like.

Aletha Blayse
Twitter: @alethab

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 99 Comments

Protest Against the Salvation Army: 17-31 July, 2014, Sydney

Hi there,

In my last post, I talked about a couple of things that I’m yet to follow through on by writing on this blog. One was the quest for the Salvation Army’s new restorative justice principles, and the other was the matter of my meeting with the Salvation Army’s handling of the Blayse family in a meeting I had in Sydney a little while back with several people from the Salvation Army. Work continues on both fronts, and I’ll provide updates on this site as soon as I can. For those curious to know what’s happening now, though, the short answers are:

(a) Restorative justice: the Salvation Army has provided quite a lot of information, but I am still trying to make sense of it in such a way as to be able to write intelligently about it.

(b) Justice for Lewis Blayse: In the air, but the Salvation Army are at least ‘at the table’. I can’t really say more than that at this stage, other than that I am now cautiously optimistic that there will be a better outcome than the disgusting way my Dad’s family has been treated to date.

For now though, there’s something slightly more important / pressing that I’d like to get out to readers. And this is an upcoming protest that commences today at 4 pm in Sydney and will run right through until the end of the month.

The protest is being conducted by prominent social justice campaigner and homelessness rights activist, Stephanie Calabornes. She’ll be protesting right outside Sydney Salvation Army headquarters.

Stephanie is an incredible woman who has deep compassion for those who’ve been harmed by organisations vested with responsibility for care of the most vulnerable people in our society, an extraordinary knowledge of social justice issues, and a level of strength and determination to fight injustice that puts me to shame. She’s known to many who take a keen interest in the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, but has been active on social justice issues for a very long time.

Stephanie will be doing something that I doubt I’d be able to do. She’ll be mounting a DAY and NIGHT protest for two weeks in Sydney outside Sydney Salvation Army headquarters at 140 Elizabeth Street. Which is going to be no mean feat, as it’s freezing in Sydney at the moment!

Stephanie has the wholehearted endorsement of the White Shield Appeal campaign (, which originated as a protest against the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal in May this year, but will soon be developed into an ongoing protest site for those with concerns about the Salvation Army in a very wide range of areas (please check the White Shield Appeal campaign site regularly over coming weeks for changes).

Stephanie’s 2-week protest against the Salvation Army in Sydney is a protest primarily against:

  • The Salvation Army’s treatment of homeless people;
  • How the Salvation Army allowed confessed child sex abuser Colin Haggar to work at women’s and children’s refuge, Samaritan House Shelter;
  • The Salvation Army’s treatment of victims of its children’s homes and their families; and
  • The Salvation Army’s delivery of services to homeless youth.

Stephanie is extremely knowledgeable, however, about the Salvation Army and its many failings in the areas listed on the White Shield Appeal campaign website, and will be speaking to Salvation Army representatives who come down to chat with her about her and others’ concerns in other areas as well.

It’s hoped that anyone in the Sydney area who supports the White Shield Appeal campaign, or otherwise has concerns with the Salvation Army, will come along and shake Stephanie’s hand and get to know her. Please also feel free to pass on your contact details to Stephanie if you want to be provided with updates about what’s happening during her protest or if you want to start receiving updates about the White Shield Appeal campaign in the future.

Most importantly, if you want to just have a quiet word to Stephanie and stay anonymous but nevertheless get your concerns about the Salvation Army noted and fed into the work that will be being done with the White Shield Appeal campaign in the future, please do that too.

Here’s just some of the things Stephanie will be protesting:

Homelessness Services:

Stephanie has long and direct personal experience that makes her very qualified to speak about homelessness services in Australia, and is well-known as a powerful and articulate advocate for the rights of homeless people. According to Stephanie, “The Salvation Army is using homeless people for free labour instead of directing them to meaningful employment via the Salvation Army’s Employment Plus Service.” She says this practice is appalling, and that the public should know about it. I couldn’t agree more, and I am looking forward to developing a deeper understanding of what is happening here by talking more to Stephanie in coming months and hearing what she has to say during her protest.

Stephanie also alleges that, “The Salvation Army is imposing conditions on some homeless people who are offered accommodation in Salvation Army shelters that they attend Salvation Army religious services.” Stephanie says, “This is disgusting. The Salvation Army is imposing its religious beliefs upon people as a condition of provision of basic services. All people, including homeless people, have the right to freedom of religious expression, which includes not attending Salvation Army church services.”

These are important issues that touch on problems such as separation of church and state, treatment of people who are homeless, and others. Again, I hope people will come along and have a chat with Stephanie and listen to what she has to say.

Colin Haggar:

Stephanie also wants to remind the public about the decision of the Salvation Army to allow confessed child sex abuser, Colin Haggar, to work at the Samaritan House Shelter, a refuge for women and children. Stephanie says, “What confidence can the public have in the Salvation Army to care for vulnerable young people if it allowed a person like Colin Haggar to be placed in this position?” Stephanie says she would like to see all governments review current funding to the Salvation Army following a thorough investigation of all Salvation Army refuge centres. Hear hear.

Children’s Homes’ Victims & Families:

Although not a survivor of a Salvation Army children’s home, Stephanie also spent time in an orphanage, and is acutely aware of the issues surrounding treatment of victims and families, and other problems associated with children’s homes. Stephanie says, “The Salvation Army’s dealings with victims of its homes has been callous.” She says she would like to see all levels of government force the Salvation Army to deliver true restorative justice to victims and families and says, “The Salvation Army is misleading the public that it is delivering justice to its victims; it is not.” Stephanie also wants the Salvation Army to tell the Australian public how many Salvation Army children’s homes victims are currently homeless.

In protesting on this issue, Stephanie is doing important work in bringing greater attention to the plight of survivors of children’s homes, both Salvation Army and, indirectly, others. I really hope that any survivors of Salvation Army children’s homes who are in the Sydney area drop around for a quick chat (and maybe a coffee, eh Steph 🙂 ) and share their stories about where things are at. I’ve been in touch now with many survivors who’ve been treated appallingly by the Salvation Army and continue to be treated appallingly, and Stephanie is as concerned as I am about the picture that’s developing about what’s really going on, despite all the positive messages being put out by the Salvation Army about it accepting responsibility for what it’s done. Stephanie is keen to do what she can to draw attention to what the Salvation Army is really doing, and deserves as much support as possible in this regard.

Homeless Youth:

Stephanie also alleges that the Salvation Army is, “Not doing the job it claims to do in provision of services to homeless youth.” According to Stephanie, “I have repeatedly told the Salvation Army that it needs to send its Oasis homeless youth vans to specific locations in order to reach homeless youth. It has not done so, leaving many young people without the support the Salvation Army claims to offer.” Stephanie has spent many a night out and about talking to people living on the streets of Sydney, and is very qualified to speak about what she has observed. I hope people will be listening.

I and others associated with the White Shield Appeal campaign hope anyone with an interest in these important issues will come along and support Stephanie Calabornes in her protest at 140 Elizabeth Street, Sydney.

While Stephanie is protesting, I’ll be busy on Twitter and on the White Shield Appeal campaign website ( talking about what Stephanie is doing and what she finds out from her talks with Salvation Army officers and others who will hopefully come and talk to her about the issues she’s protesting about. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow developments by following me at @alethab, where I’ll be Tweeting regularly about what Stephanie is doing. If you’re interested in following Stephanie on Twitter in future (and I suggest that she’s a great person to follow), her Twitter account is @outandabout12. If you can’t make it to the protest, please send her a message of support and encouragement. Please use the hashtag #WhiteShieldAppeal when you do so.

Hats off to Stephanie for her determination to speak out against the Salvation Army and expose injustice and cruelty wherever she sees it.

If you’re inspired by what Stephanie is doing, and want to mount a protest of your own on any issue surrounding the Salvation Army, even if it’s just for a day or even for a few hours, please get in touch with me. I’d be glad to help you get your protest publicised through the White Shield Appeal campaign website or in any other way you see fit. Please do get in touch by using the contact page on this site (, or the White Shield Appeal campaign website ( and I’ll lend a hand. Alternatively, if public protests aren’t your thing, but you would like to get a petition going about your issue to raise awareness and bring about change within the Salvation Army, please also get in touch and I’ll do everything I can to assist you in your endeavours.

Best wishes, Stephanie, and I hope you’re joined by many other people (whether in Sydney or in spirit) who will listen to what you have to say. Let’s hope at least a few senior people from the Salvation Army come down to the street and have a chat and start to listen harder to what people have been being saying to them for years, but they have yet to really absorb …

Aletha Blayse



Twitter: @alethab

[Postscript: Just recently, Salvation Army Eden Park Boys Home children’s home survivor, Graham Rundle, had his book, Forty-Four: A Tale of Survival, published. I’ve ordered a copy of Graham’s book and eagerly await its arrival in the mail. For a list of stockists so you can order a copy of Graham’s book too, just Google Forty-Four: A Tale of Survival. It’s available in most good bookshops and through Amazon. If you can’t afford to purchase a copy, please ask your library to order in a copy. This book is essential reading for a deeper understanding of the reality of the Salvation Army, past and present, and of the incredible life of Graham Rundle. Graham, like Stephanie, is a person of great compassion, and I hope his story of courage and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds gets read by everyone.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments