The Salvation Army (Or: The War on Kids)

[Disclosure: The author was an inmate of the Salvation Army Home for Boys at Indooroopilly, Brisbane from 1958 to 1960 and appeared, in 2004, in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s TV programme, “The Homies” on Four Corners, which detailed abuses in the Home. In 2007, financial assistance was accepted from the Salvation Army towards the cost of urgent dental surgery. No further claims are intended.]

The Salvation Army in Australia has had a throughput of approximately 30,000 children through its Children’s Homes. Inmates were State Wards and juveniles convicted under the justice system. Both categories were housed together, and the distinction in treatment between the two groups was essentially non-existent. The characteristic of the Homes, borne out by many witnesses, was an atmosphere of extreme violence and cruelty, hiring out inmates as unpaid workers, and psychological abuse in the form of fostering feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem.

In some cases, these abuses were augmented by sexual abuse. Unfortunately, only this category comes under the terms of reference of the royal commission. In 2006, the Salvation Army, in a meeting closed to the media, apologised for the existence of sexual abuse, but challenged the extent of the problem. The Salvation Army acknowledged the “rigid, harsh and authoritarian” environment inside many of its Homes. It acknowledged that many children from their Homes “failed to realise their potential.”

Many abusive clergy hid behind an image of caring and godliness. The Salvos hid behind an authoritarian uniform which gave them a kind of “official” status. The Russian government was so concerned about the fact that uniforms meant authority in the old Soviet system, that they expelled the organisation from their country. In the Homes, the uniform contributed to the power distance factor. To the child, there was no difference with a policeman’s uniform.

Recently, at the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry, the Salvation Army was accused of responding with “overt hostility” to people who were sexually abused as children within its care. A notorious case was that of the Bayswater Children’s Home. One official, John Bayer, was imprisoned in 2008 for nine years. Another case was that of the Eden Park Boys’ Home in the Adelaide Hills. Here, “outsiders” were given boys for “outings”. Judge Griffin jailed one of these outsiders, Barry William Johnston, for six years for abusing a boy from the Home, on top of the five years he was already serving. He had previously served time for similar offending in NSW.

Another judge had described the Eden Park Home as a disgrace and a horrific place of cruel incarceration where boys were regularly beaten and raped. An official at the Eden Park Home, William John Keith Ellis, was convicted of molesting four boys between 1960 and 1971. Ellis was jailed for 16 years with a non-parole period of 12 years.

The Salvation Army has had the same problems with shifting offenders around, as is well known already for the Catholic Church. An example is that of William Ferris who was sentenced to 6 years and 6 months jail for raping a seven-year old girl. Her family had gone to Mr. Ferris for help in his role as a Salvation Army Officer, which he had maintained for 40 years.

The trouble was that he had a string of offences during those years. He was convicted in NSW in 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1990 for sex offences, including exposure and the sexual assault of children that went back to the 1960s and 70s. He had been thrown out of the NSW branch before moving to Queensland, but the Salvos’ then policy meant pedophiles convicted in one state could re-emerge in another, their personal files never crossing state lines. As a result of this case, they claim to have established an internal vetting process. The “perversion” files, if they exist, should be available to the royal commission.

The Salvation Army brand relies heavily on help given to the disadvantaged. The brand image suffered badly when the Smith case came to light. Charles Alan Smith ran a house for homeless boys. He pleaded guilty to offences against the boys over a 15 year period. He was sentenced to 15 years jail but was released on parole, in 2005, after serving half the sentence. During sentencing, Chief Judge Kevin Hammond had described Smith as a dominant man and a true paedophile who had preyed on young boys and used them as sexual playthings.

Hopefully, the Salvation Army chief, General Shaw Clifton, will be called before the royal commission to explain himself.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: The seal of the confessional

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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