‘I would like the Salvation Army to understand that my mother was a devout Salvation Army person. She cooked and manned stalls for the Salvos for many years … She ensured that I attended Sunday school and church functions’, Sid told the Commissioner.
‘My mother was a good Salvation Army person, and here they are flogging and molesting her son … I think she’d be absolutely disgusted. I’m glad she’s not alive, because I’d hate for her to have known what happened.’
Sid’s father never knew either. In fact, for many years Sid told no one of the sexual abuse and violence he suffered in the Salvation Army home for boys in Queensland. At the time there was no point. ‘You never spoke ill of any church, or said anybody touched you or molested you, you never went to the police – the retribution would have been severe and harsh.’
Later, he felt that sharing his experiences would only leave him more isolated. ‘People think, because you’ve been molested, you’re going to molest someone else’, he explained.
Sid first disclosed what had happened to him in his late 50s. He and his wife were watching a television program about kids in institutional care. Finally, he told his wife what had happened to him decades before.
Born in the mid-1940s, Sid was the second youngest in a large family. His mother died when he was seven. His father struggled to manage and Sid was sent first to live with his grandmother, then with his older sister, then with his grandmother again. Three years after his mother passed Sid was sent to the Salvation Army home.
‘The horrific treatment I received in the home from the staff still impacts on my life in a traumatic way’, he wrote in an impact statement.
Ten-year-old Sid regularly wet his bed, and along with other bed-wetters at the home he was brutally punished for it. The officer in charge made them stand outside the shower block with the urine-soaked sheets over their heads. They were caned - a bamboo rod, administered across the backside. They were forced to have cold showers, still with the sheets over their heads. ‘In this way the sheets plus our pyjamas were washed’, Sid wrote in the impact statement. Then, naked apart from a towel, he had to walk to the washing line and hang out the wet sheets and pyjamas. ‘This was a daily procedure when I wet the bed.’
Sid had almost no contact with his family while at the home, but one day, when he’d been there for several months, his father and older brother visited him there. ‘I was rather distraught that night and couldn’t sleep’, Sid wrote.
The officer on duty, seeing Sid’s wakefulness, took him to his room and sat him on the bed.
‘He rubbed his hand over my back and down my leg. I told him to leave me alone. He didn’t. Instead he grabbed my penis and squeezed it.’ Sid punched the officer and the officer hit him in the face. The force of the blow knocked Sid’s head back into the wall, and he fainted.
‘The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed, next morning. I had a splitting headache, a lump on the back of my head, bruising to my right cheek, a cut and bleeding mouth and was very sore in the anus. It was obvious to me I had been sexually molested.’
In the late 1950s Sid’s father married again, and Sid went to live with them. As a young man he spent some years in the army, but took a medical discharge to look after his much younger half-brother, just a young child at the time. The only other option for his brother was institutional care, a prospect Sid couldn’t face.
‘It’s the one thing I’m proud of in my life. That I stopped him being abused’, he told the Commissioner.
When his brother returned to the care of his sister, Sid became restless. He moved from job to job. He suffered flashbacks of the torment he’d experienced in the Salvation Army home. Memories of abuse and being flogged surfaced constantly. He developed medical problems. He had low self-esteem.
‘In reality the whole experience of my treatment in care had altered my belief in human nature’, he said. ‘I didn’t want to mix … I was unstable and couldn’t get close to others.’ He felt he couldn’t trust anyone – that if they found out his history, they wouldn’t want to know him.
Sid married for a second time in the 1990s, and that relationship has remained strong. ‘For the first time I’m able to have a relationship without fear, mainly because I’ve been able to talk to her about my past traumas regarding my treatment in the home’, Sid told the Commissioner.
After seeing the program about kids in care, Sid got in touch with a support group. The group helped him find a counsellor. With assistance, he contacted the Salvation Army and eventually received a $26,000 compensation payment and an apology.
Sid feels that there should be requirements in place to ensure records are kept and made accessible to the people concerned. He also believes that better supervision of what’s happening in institutions would reduce the chance of abuse. ‘I just don’t know how it can be controlled – you can only try’, he said.