Penny Louise's story

'The Salvation Army at no stage ever took into consideration the family of the officers they sent to places. Children were unseen collateral and ignored. Our feelings and needs were never taken into consideration with any decision that was made. I don't know if this is still the case.'

Penny doesn't know why Salvation Army families had to move every few years but it was the way things were. As a child, Penny went to several different schools as her large family moved from state to state.

Penny's first memories were of a boys' home where her father worked. The family lived on premises. One of Penny's brothers was sexually abused by a resident. Her brother yelled and others intervened to stop the abuse. The resident boy was beaten by Major Harvey (not Penny's father) in his office.

Later the family moved interstate again to a hostel which provided a cheap place to stay for 'all sorts of transients'. Penny helped in the office before and after school. As she recalls in her written statement:

'There was a period of about 6 months where we had a fellow staying there … he always managed to corner me. His favourite place to do this was the bathroom/laundry area that was right next to the gate that leads to our house.

'He would ALWAYS grab me from behind and put his hands down the front of my pants and up my shirt. He would "wet" himself on my back. Sometimes this happened every day. He left after about 6 months and I never saw him again.'

By this stage, Penny and her siblings were all in high school and didn't want to interrupt their education. Penny had taken on a lot of responsibility for the family. She wrote letters to Territorial Headquarters (THQ) asking that the family stay where they were 'and never got a response. And next thing you know we moved to what I consider was an inappropriate appointment'.

This was a half-way house where men from a maximum security jail would spend the last few months of their term, and for men who had just left jail. As Penny writes in her statement:

'Not a great place for a family … to move to. The house they moved us into was big enough for us but it was condemned. I remember the first day stepping on the carpet and our legs went black from fleas. The rats run amok in this place. … This was a disgusting house but apparently the "only" place they could find to accommodate our family.

'The men scared me, they touched me inappropriately at any chance they got, rubbed themselves against me and groped me.'

When Penny was in her mid-teens a resident raped her. At the time Penny didn't disclose the abuse to her father, partly because she didn't feel comfortable discussing such things with him. She has never been to police regarding the rape as she can't recall what the abuser looks like or his last name.

'As soon as I turned 16 I left. Didn't want to be a part of that place anymore.'

Penny doesn't have any more to do with the Salvation Army. Nor do her siblings. A couple of years ago she tried to get her records but was told that they’d been destroyed.

In terms of disclosure, she has explained to her children why she was coming to the Royal Commission and the impact past abuse has had on her family. For example, some of her brothers won't speak to their father as they blame him for their difficult childhood.

On one occasion Penny asked her father if he saw what was going on, thinking he must have seen something. Her father responded that he hadn’t as he was so busy. Penny concedes that with a large family, running the institutions they lived in would have kept their father very busy. She also thinks he feels he was doing some good for society at the time.

Penny was not surprised when recent publicity came out about child sexual abuse at Salvation Army institutions. 'I have to admit that, like, a lot of my brothers and myself have just gone "Oh finally". But there again none of us said anything beforehand because we wrote letters … as kids. Everything was quashed. You weren't considered anything as a child … You were dismissed.'

Content updating Updating complete