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Lawrie Sean's story

‘The Salvation Army people were supposed to be kind to you.’

After Lawrie was born in the late 1930s his mother left the family for another man. His father worked in a factory in Victoria and found it difficult to both work and provide for his children. He took Lawrie to work with him and usually left him in a room with no windows.

It came to the attention of the child welfare department that Lawrie and his siblings were in an unsafe place, and in the early 1940s a welfare officer found him dehydrated in the room at his father’s work.

When Lawrie was two the children were made wards of the state. He and his brother were sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home together but they were forbidden to talk to each other.

The home was a violent place and Lawrie recalls being caned for the smallest thing. The matron of the home would hit boys on their penis if they woke up with an erection. Lawrie can’t remember how many times he was given an electric shock as punishment by one of the captains.

When Lawrie was 10 he came into contact with Captain Dunstan. Dunstan was his dormitory master and supervised several of his day classes, and had a habit of forcing boys to run around the gymnasium naked while he watched. The captain would also come into the dormitory late at night and getting into the boys’ beds.

It wasn’t long before Dunstan approached Lawrie, sitting on his bed and touching his genitals several times for a two year period. He also raped Lawrie eight times during his stay at the home.

‘It’s so disgusting, I try and get it out of me mind. I just can’t.’

Lawrie was confused and didn’t know what to do, and couldn’t turn to anyone. He had lost contact with most of his family and his older brother wasn’t allowed to see him because they were different ages. Although he knew the other boys were aware of what was happening he couldn’t bring himself to say anything to them.

Lawrie eventually confided in Captain Ewan, but Ewan told him it was all his mind. Ewan then took Lawrie into a room and gave him an electric shock to ‘clear Lawrie’s head’.

‘Everyone was in the same boat. You really couldn’t talk to [the staff] unless they spoke to you.’

The abuse ceased when Lawrie was 13. He believes it was because there were new boys that came into the home and Dunstan wasn’t interested in him anymore. Lawrie went out of his way to avoid Dunstan after that.

When he was 16 Lawrie was dismissed from the home and sent to work at a farm for the next two years. The farm was run by Kevin Young, who was a friend of Dunstan and would also try to sexually abuse the boys. Lawrie always pushed Young away, kept his head down and continued to work hard.

Lawrie has had trouble sleeping throughout his teens and into adulthood, and still has a fear that Dunstan will creep up on him during the night. He can’t handle taking directions from people in authority because he doesn’t trust them. He missed out on education and has never been able to have a stable job.

Lawrie has had intimacy issues and used to drink a lot to stifle the memories. He has difficulty managing anger, and continues to be triggered by the foods that were served to him as a boy in the home. He is ashamed by what happened and believes he could have spoken up about the abuse.

‘I should have done something. It’s hard because I know now that everyone could. It’s still hard sitting here and talking about it.’

Lawrie told his wife of the abuse in the 1970s. He felt relieved that he could disclose the details and he told other members of his family. Lawrie reconnected with his brother, who was also in the home, and they confided in each other about the abuse they experienced there.

Around five years ago Lawrie and his brother approached the Salvation Army. They both engaged in separate compensation processes, which were very traumatic. Lawrie was angry with the Salvation Army’s response and felt their letter of apology and compensation offer was unacceptable.

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