Salvos abuse victims finally believed

The royal commission abuse inquiry hears from Salvation Army again (AAP)

Excuses about former attitudes to corporal punishment of kids do not wash with Joanne Penglaze because 'it was never OK to rape and sodomise children'.

The voices of the outraged are getting louder.

The UN has added its call to the chorus from inquiries across the globe demanding the Catholic Church come clean about sex predators in its ranks.

Above the din, or ironically maybe because of the din, you can hear for the first time the voices of people who stayed hidden because they felt the shame and confusion of the oppressed.

As children they were given into the care of adults who ran homes for charitable institutions like the Salvation Army or the churches. Once in these homes they were often met not with benevolence but with real cruelty and a relentless undermining of their own worth.

This arrangement happened because governments across the world, including in Australia, never provided enough cash to take care of children in need and were glad when the good people of organisations like the Salvation Army came forward to help.

Governments have always provided a "poor service for poor children" said former Queensland senior public servant Janice Doyle when she was asked by Justice Peter McClellan, chair of the royal commission into child sexual abuse, to ponder why abuse in homes was widespread.

Ms Doyle's response, like her evidence about what happened at two Queensland homes run by the Salvation Army in the 60s and 70s was forthright.

She deconstructed middle class do-good responses to working class kids who were made to feel inferior and she was scathing about political commitment to institutional childcare.

The 'home' kids have grown up and are now telling their stories at public hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.

What is striking, especially over the past few weeks, is the raw honesty and courage of witnesses who have come forward to tell what happened to them in Salvation Army homes in NSW and Queensland.

A few, among them Kevin Marshall who was six when he was placed in Bexley Home for Boys in south Sydney, have decided they will no longer stay hidden.

Mr Marshall abandoned the pseudonym FA offered by the commission and spoke in a steady considered way about the eight years he spent at the home.

His voice only broke when he reflected on how a "bear pit" mentality developed in an environment where avoiding beatings and sexual assault took precedence over helping younger children.

"I felt complicit", he said.

Mr Marshall's story is typical of that told by many survivors. Victims end up carrying guilt for the abuse they suffered.

His evidence, like that of others who told heart-breaking stories of adult bastardy to children, was greeted with applause from care-leavers who had travelled from Victoria and Queensland to lend support.

Joanna Penglaze, is the co-founder of Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) and the author of Orphans of the Living - a book which explores why abuse happened in homes and the profound personal costs to children and society.

Dr Penglaze, who was placed in care when she was just eight-months old, said the Royal Commission was of enormous significance.

"It is impossible to overestimate the importance of being heard and being believed", she told AAP.

"The root of all trauma is not only the traumatic event but the reaction of others ... and survivors have lived for decades with these terrible events inside them feeling powerless and hopeless."

A frequent question put to witnesses giving evidence of childhood abuse is 'did you tell anyone?' and the answer always is 'I did not think I would be believed'.

As children they would not have been believed and it takes great courage now to relive these events, she says.

Penglaze says people also find it difficult to hear the stories and their response is often 'oh people thought differently about children then'.

"(But) it was never OK to rape and sodomise children, it was never OK to beat them in a way that would have been a criminal offence if it was done to an adult," Penglaze said.

Not surprisingly over the past six months of public hearings by the royal commission the historical attitudes to children and corporal punishment have been referred to many times by people representing the institutions under scrutiny.

On Thursday Maree Walk, the CEO of the NSW Department of Community Services, mentioned it in her evidence to the commission as the reason welfare officers in the 70s did not report obvious over-the-top physical abuse of kids in NSW homes to police.

"We are not talking about attitudes at the time we are talking about sadistic cruelty and sexual predation," says Penglaze.

In her book she argues that maybe one reason we do not want to know about these histories is because it indicates that adults cannot be relied upon to be benevolent to children.

"We would like to think that only some adults - other adults, perverted, sick disturbed adults - harm children and it is difficult to face the fact that harming children may be within the range of normal behaviours that all adults might be capable of, under certain circumstances and conditions."

Source AAP

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch