In the 1950s, Dot was made a ward of the state and placed in a Salvation Army girls’ home. For eight years from the age of seven she was constantly anxious and lived in fear of beatings and humiliations, particularly those handed out by the ‘matron’ in the home.
As a bed-wetter for her first two years, Dot would be punished by having her face rubbed into the sheets. She wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet without permission and had to beg for hygiene products which were issued meagrely. She was also regularly locked in a storage cupboard for hours and from this developed lifelong claustrophobia.
‘I was hit with a belt and a strap often’, Dot said. ‘The matron would pull my pants down, make me bend over and then repeatedly strap me. She would be completely out of control when doing this. I feel that my nudity and the physical action of hitting me was for her sexual gratification.’
In her early teenage years, Dot was removed from school and put to work doing domestic chores. She received no life training and left the home with few skills. The anxiety she had as a child continued into adult life and she found it hard to relate to people in social situations and workplaces. Her children suffered, she said, as she repeated the pattern of neglect and abuse she’d learnt herself as a child.
In the 2000s, after receiving compensation through a state redress scheme, Dot approached the Salvation Army and requested a meeting, an apology and financial recompense for the trauma she’d gone through as a child. Salvation Army staff agreed to the meeting request and Dot attended with a friend who was told she wasn’t allowed to speak or participate in proceedings.
Dot said she found the meeting intimidating and being in the presence of uniformed officers who used ‘standover tactics’ was like being back in the home. One of the officers apologised for the abuse and said that ‘it wouldn’t happen today’, but Dot felt they were merely trying to get through the process and get her out.
She subsequently received an offer of $7,000 plus 10 counselling sessions. ‘When I received the letter of offer, I was completely shocked and upset. The offer was terrible and not what I expected given my experience at the home.’
Dot refused and several months later, after further correspondence, received another offer, this time $30,000. She again refused, knowing that others who’d spent similar amounts of time as she had in the home had received more under the Salvation Army claims process. A third offer was made, and Dot accepted $40,000.
The impact statement Dot wrote and tried to hand over at various points in the negotiation process was never accepted by the Salvation Army. To Dot, they seemed not to want to know.
In the 2010s, Dot submitted an outline of her experiences to the Royal Commission’s public hearing on the Salvation Army claims process. During the hearing, she was approached by a Salvation Army officer who invited her to lunch. She declined and he asked if he could phone her within the next two weeks to further discuss the amount she’d been paid and ‘help’ her.
After hearing nothing from the officer for five months, Dot asked an advocate to follow the matter up with the Salvation Army. Soon afterwards, Dot was contacted by someone who said she was reviewing claims and the officer Dot had spoken to had moved to another position and hadn’t passed on his promise to contact her. The woman said she herself had been made redundant because she wasn’t part of the Salvation Army and recounted that from that time forward only officers would be involved in the redress process.
‘[She said] they were closing ranks. And by that she meant no outsiders will be included in decision-making on victims, as we’re known. It’ll just be amongst themselves to make the decision. And that is wrong, in my opinion. There should be outsiders on the committee.’
A succession of phone calls and letters followed with various members of the Salvation Army contacting Dot, each promising to revisit her original claim. When asked what she wanted, Dot said, ‘$350,000’, because she’d heard of someone else receiving that amount.
Later, Dot was asked if she’d accept $80,000. She said, ‘No’. After further toing and froing, Dot decided she’d had enough and told an officer that she couldn’t ‘keep fighting’.
In the month before she came to her private session with the Royal Commission, Dot accepted a verbal offer of $90,000. She found out later the decision-making authority was a committee of three people, all Salvation Army officers.
Dot recommended greater transparency and accountability for the Salvation Army in dealing with people’s claims for redress. ‘They’ve got to firstly be honest with people’, she said. ‘Follow through with what they say they are going to do. And when they make a decision on people’s lives, and what they’re going to compensate them with and how to help them, don’t just do it amongst themselves. Try and have people who are not just Salvation Army people come in and make decisions with them.’