Kendra was born in Sydney in the mid 1960s, into a family with generations of tradition in the Salvation Army. Between the ages of four and 12 she was sexually abused by Dennis Trebett, an officer in the Salvation Army, and a close friend of her father.
‘There are 11 counts in my police report, because I could only give … because of my age I could only give specific details of which house it was and different circumstances and approximate times of the year on 11 counts. But there’s probably 30 or 40. And my testimony does not reflect the severity and the frequency of it.’
Kendra is confident Trebett’s wife knew what he was doing. She believes she was invited to their house regularly so Trebett could abuse her instead of his own children.
There was no one Kendra could tell. ‘I wasn’t raised with the language to actually articulate what was happening to me. So I couldn’t have come home and said, “Mum, when we go to visit him he puts his hands inside my pants and plays with my vagina” … we didn’t even use the word “vagina”. We didn’t have the skill set to do that.
‘To be forced to do the things I had to do … even as an adult I did not have the language to be able to say those things to anybody.’
Kendra first disclosed the sexual abuse in the mid-90s, in a letter to the Salvation Army. There was no acknowledgement of it, and no indication that any action was taken against Trebett.
In a letter to the Royal Commission Kendra wrote, ‘As I had family members in active service I chose not to rock the boat, rather I accepted at that time that no honest dealings with the Salvation Army were possible’.
It was almost 20 years before she heard anything more. An outside investigator hired by the Salvation Army, David Swanton, asked Kendra to make an official statement about Trebett’s abuse.
For the next five months Swanton and his team kept in touch, and she felt something was finally being done. ‘Then all of their contracts were terminated ... And you’ve just disclosed the most devastating thing in your life and there’s no one that can tell you where they’re at with your situation ... and then [someone new] comes into that position and she will not respond to you, and she will not write to you.’
Kendra strongly believes the investigators were let go because they were locating survivors and essentially doing ‘too good a job’.
With encouragement from David Swanton, Kendra then reported Trebett to police and started civil action against the Salvation Army. Soon after, she received a letter from them acknowledging the abuse, and apologising. But while it also said that Trebett had been stripped of his position, there was no mention of contacting the authorities or an offer of compensation.
When Kendra went ahead with her civil action, the Salvation Army dragged out the proceedings. She spoke of a constant lack of cooperation and communication. ‘I just felt like I was dealing with a corporation in damage control, not a Christian Church that I have grown up in, that my family has spent their entire life serving.’
Eventually, after several years, the Salvation Army made Kendra an offer. ‘I literally felt defeated. I felt I had no other option than to take the money and just let it go …
‘I actually am embarrassed and ashamed to tell people I’ve taken the money. And I can’t get my head around that. I feel absolutely violated by the amount of money that they’ve given me … that reduces my abuse to like, two-and-a-half, three thousand dollars every time I was raped.’
Kendra believes, because the Salvation Army uses a ‘tiered’ system when assessing compensation, she would have received more if the abuse had caused more obvious damage.
‘My solicitor said to me, “If you had a broken marriage … If you had some alcohol or drug dependency”... I’m just not dysfunctional enough to have got a decent payment …
‘My problem is that I have been raised in such a loving, nurturing, secure environment, that I’ve been able to take what happened to me and move it to one side.
‘And I can honestly say that I have an understanding of bipolar in a way that I’ve never had before. Because I actually took that four to 12-year-old and put her to one side of my life, and I then did everything that I’ve done in the thirty-odd years since to protect her. But I’ve never actually dealt with what happened to her.’
Over the years Kendra learnt from other survivors that the Salvation Army was well aware that Trebett was abusing children. ‘And it’s a betrayal that goes over and above the betrayal of the abuse ... I can sit here and say that I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that they knew that they had a paedophile … for a very long period of time, possibly as much as 30 to 35 years …’
But nothing was ever done to stop him. Kendra wrote, ‘Instead, as was clearly the practice within the Salvation Army culture, he was moved, promoted, forced to resign, allowed to seek forgiveness, reinstated with rank and position, exonerated, retired with full honours and a pension, and all the time his list of victims grew.’
Kendra told the Commissioner, ‘I actually am aware of other girls … who I am very confident would have similar stories to myself. And maybe just one person coming forward and saying, “This happened to me” would give them the strength and courage to come forward and say, “Well, actually, he did that to me as well”. So I think there’s a lot to be gained by coming forward publicly’.