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Sex abuse royal commission: Salvation Army's response to child sexual abuse 'appalling', commission finds

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December 15th, 2017 | Tammy Mills | The Age

 

The Salvation Army's failure to respond appropriately and compassionately to victims of child sexual abuse was "appalling", the Royal Commission has found.

Though the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard more allegations against the Catholic Church than any other organisation, it was followed by the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army, the Uniting Church and others, including contemporary out-of-home care in which the commission identified persistent weaknesses and failures that exist today.

In the Salvation Army, survivors were accused of lying and, in some cases, physically punished or further abused for disclosing, according to the commission's final report. 

The commission into institutional child sexual abuse heard from 294 survivors of abuse in the Salvation Army. Most were men and the average age of abuse was just 10 years old.

Most perpetrators, the commission said, were residential care workers and the institution had one of the highest proportions of survivors who spoke of abuse by other children.

In findings handed down on Friday, the commission said the Salvation Army left alleged perpetrators in positions were they had access to children despite multiple complaints they sexually abused children in their care.

Some were transferred to other Salvation Army institutions, some were dismissed but later readmitted.

Their failure to respond with compassion was appalling, the commission said.

"Victims of child sexual abuse in Salvation Army homes who disclosed they had been abused were frequently disbelieved or accused of lying, or not action was taken in response to their disclosures," the report stated.

"In some cases victims who disclosed sexual abuse were physically punished or further abused as a result." 

Victims were traumatised and disappointed when they later sought redress, including apologies.

The commission found the organisational culture in which managers of the institutions wielded absolute authority over children in their care contributed, as did the hierarchical structure where subordinate officers and staff did not challenge managers.

"Within this organisational culture, children were devalued and often treated harshly," the report said.

In a statement, the Salvation Army's Lieutenant Colonel Neil Venebles said the organisation is committed to helping and healing the survivors.

"The Salvation Army looks to the leadership of Australia's governments to create the National Redress Scheme recommended by the Royal Commission. This recommendation has our support," Mr Venebles said.

 

The Anglicans

About 600 survivors spoke about abuse in 244 different Anglican institutions where the average age of a victim was 11 years old. Most of the perpetrators were in the ministry, followed by teachers, residential care workers and housemasters. 

The commission said there was inconsistent outcomes under the professional standards framework that was introduced in 2007 with the Church still failing to report abuse in a timely manner, if at all, in some cases and failing to take disciplinary action in some dioceses.

Before the early 2000s, leaders often dismissed and minimised allegations. Senior Anglican church personnel asked complainants to remain silent. In some cases, despite admissions being made to a bishop, reports were still not made to police.

Like the Catholic church, alleged perpetrators were moved, promoted and allowed to remain in ministry.

 

Jehovah's Witnesses 

Seventy survivors came forward to the commission to talk about abuse in the Jehovah's Witness, although files the institution supplied found allegations relating to 1800 children and more than 1000 perpetrators. Most were alleged perpetrators were family members.

The commission found as long as the Witnesses required victims to state allegations in the presence of their perpetrator, forbade women to investigate abuse and insisted upon a "two-witness" rule requiring testimony from two or more "credible" witnesses and forbade women from being involved in investigating abuse, then "it will remain an organisation that does not respond adequately to child sexual abuse and that fails to protect children".

 

Out-of-home care

Despite major reform in every state and territory, the commission found persistent weaknesses and systematic failures continued to place children at risk in out-of-home care.

Almost 260 survivors told the commission they had been abused in contemporary out-of-home care, that is, after 1990. Government data obtained by the commission showed between July 2012 to the end of June in 2014, there were 2,376 reports of sexual abuse. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were significantly over-represented, as were children with a disability.

The commission found systematic failings including poor information sharing, frequent placement changes, inadequate responses to abuse by service providers and significant gaps in training.

 

Jewish institutions 

The commission also recommended all Jewish institutions explicitly state Jewish law concepts of unlawful gossip and mesirah, which prohibits a Jew from informing on another, do not apply in cases of child sexual abuse.

The recommendation emerged from investigating abuse allegations at Yeshiva​ Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne.  

 

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