Arriving in a new Salvation Army community in the 1990s, Vicki appreciated the efforts of Captain Jackson Keely to welcome her and James, her husband, and her daughters, Rebekah and Page. Vicki and James had both experienced recent bereavement and it was a relief to be able to talk with Keely about their grief.
‘He had a personality that drew you in’, Vicki said. ‘You felt like, wow, this is finally someone who understands this is really hard … and this has been a real battle for us to come back to a church and figure out where is God in all of this … What a fresh breath to have someone who wouldn’t try and just give you all the glib responses.’
There were occasions however, when Vicki noticed Keely was ‘two different people’. If anyone questioned his judgment, he’d explode in a fit of rage and attack the person. Other people from the church behaved differently whenever he entered the room, as if they were scared or he ‘had a hold’ over them.
At an early point too, Keely started trying to drive a wedge between Vicki and James. He suggested to each they should leave the marriage and told them they were ‘suffocating’ Rebekah and Page. He introduced a rule that parents couldn’t take their children to bible study group and insisted the girls be left with him. ‘In hindsight we should have left at that point’, Vicki said.
Rebekah and Page, both aged under five, were left with Keely on numerous occasions. Often when Vicki or James returned to pick the girls up, Page would be separated from Rebekah and other children, with Keely offering the explanation that she’d been unsettled.
Vicki told the Commissioner that it was likely Page had been abused throughout the entire 18 months they were in the Salvation Army community. She wet the bed and this continued until she was eight, and she often had rashes and complained of being sore and itchy in her genital area.
One day Page was at school when a boy tried to pull her pants down. Her behaviour changed dramatically and she started having nightmares, became fearful of being left alone and developed numerous phobias. She also became scared of her father and refused to let him touch her.
At 18, Page started to have clear memories of being alone with Keely and him sexually abusing her. In the intervening years, she’d been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, and aspects of her personality started describing details about the church building and surrounds, identifying how and where the abuse took place.
Page told the Commissioner that as the memories became clearer she realised another man had often been present at the time Keely abused her, and this man had filmed her. She also recalled Keely letting the other man abuse her but then becoming angry, yelling that she was his and no one else was to touch her.
As memories surfaced, Page came to realise why she was so uncomfortable with her father. ‘Growing up I remember now what Keely used to say to me, because I was always really scared of my dad and I never liked being alone with my dad. I hated it when Mum would leave, like I still am uncomfortable, like I don’t hug my dad or kiss my dad or anything because Keely used to put, when he was holding my mouth and stuff, he used to tell me that Dad did this to my sister, but that my dad didn’t love me enough to do it to me … [He said that] every little girl should experience this, but my dad didn’t love me enough to do it to me. It had to be our secret because if Mum found out then Dad would be in trouble … So as I grew up I think I never told anybody and I just blocked it all out.’
In 2010, Vicki and Page reported Keely’s abuse to Victoria Police, who interviewed Keely and were met with denials. The family had become aware of others who’d grown up in the community and had since experienced life difficulties including mental illness and drug addictions. While police found Page’s statement credible they were hesitant to proceed with only the testimony of someone who was aged three at the time of the abuse. They were keeping the matter open in the hope that others would come forward.
Vicki reported the abuse to the Salvation Army in the early 2010s, and met with two officers. She felt the family was given a fair hearing but was upset to learn that Keely wasn’t stood down during the police investigation and that he still had access to children.
When the family engaged lawyers to assist with a claim against the Salvation Army, they were told there was no record of the original complaint and meeting. Page was asked to provide a ‘victim impact statement’ and to see a male psychiatrist. Requests from family and lawyer for a female psychiatrist were denied.
Vicki noted that the impacts of the abuse on the family had been significant, saying there was ‘nothing normal about our life’.
‘I think one of the frustrating things I find is even when the Salvation Army talk about this, they talk about it like it was years and years and years ago in homes with orphan children, and you never hear them ever say that this is something still affecting people and is probably still happening today. It’s always like, “We’re so sorry for the past”, and I think, well we’re still living through hell and that’s not the past. I just think that’s wrong.’
‘I feel like a person who was born blind’, Page said. ‘I don’t know any other life. This is the only life that I know so for me there’s nothing that can fix it, there’s nothing that can change it … For me I’m lucky because I’m one of the stronger people who have been able to turn it around and do good things from what happened to me and I’m strong and I’ve gotten through it. You never get over it though, like there’s no ending to it, it’s going to be my whole life, but I’m one of the stronger people.’