Allegations of Abuse in Institutions

Salvation Army Homes - Main Index

Index 2003 (Sept-Dec)

The Dominion Post
September 6 2003

Shame of abuse in care home lives on
by Sue Allen

More than 50 years on, a Hawke's Bay woman lives with the guilt and shame of what she says happened to her in a Salvation Army home. She wants an apology.

The 57-year-old's story of abuse while in care is increasingly familiar as the number of complaints against the church rises.

In recent weeks, 28 new allegations of both physical and sexual abuse have been notified to the Sallies, taking the total to 36 so far. Most stem from the Whatman home in Masterton and the Hodderville home in south Waikato.

For the Hawke's Bay victim, the Salvation Army's attempt to deal with the situation comes too late and does not go far enough. "It's wrong. If it is so important to them now to find out who we are and who abused us and where we live, why wasn't it so important when I started complaining some years ago?"

She also has fears the Salvation Army will try to settle claims without offering people emotional and psychological help.

Her story starts in the 1950s when she and her three siblings were abandoned by their mother and taken into care. She lived in Salvation Army homes, first in Hamilton and, from the age of five, in the Florence Booth Girls' Home in Newtown in Wellington.

Split up from her two brothers, she says it must have been a "special bond" that drew her to her half-sister, although she says the Salvation Army denied they were sisters and kept them apart.

Her stories of childhood do not cover birthday parties and cuddles or kisses, but a world of harsh physical punishments, a lack of love and a culture of silence, whatever happened.

"I knew the strap off by heart and I became immune to it. I became a little girl who got very good at bribery. I used to hate watching other girls getting the strap and the pain, and I would take it for them, but then I would bribe the other girls who had families and get them to give me lollies or I would threaten to go back and tell the matron."

Part of the problem, she says, was having no family outside the home to protect her and no one to tell about the abuse and no one who could hold the Sallies accountable. "The Salvation Army were my family, my mum and dad, they were all I had."

She accepts that all children can be naughty but says the punishments handed out were too harsh. She was locked in a coal shed.

Children as young as five were made to wash their sheets and pants in a bucket if they wet the bed. They had to chop kindling wood from when they were small.

At the age of about 10, she says, things got worse when she became the victim of sexual abuse. "He told me he was helping me to grow up into a young lady and I accepted that. He told me it was our secret and I accepted that. No way would I tell because I knew the punishment would be to take away something I loved, like my music."

Even attempts to get help from other Salvation Army officers were met only with a cup of tea and then being sent back, she says.

Now, after years of counselling and with the help of therapists, psychologists and a lawyer, who is preparing to issue a legal claim, she says she is coping better with the memories that haunt her. But she wants more.

"Now I want to meet with the commissioner. I want a one-to-one meeting. I want a person-to-person apology and an admission they knew it was happening."

The precedent has already been set in Australia where the Salvation Army recently apologised for abuse suffered by children in its care in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Some people there have also received financial compensation for physical and sexual abuse.

Salvation Army spokesman Alastair Herring said the church was encouraging people with issues to get in contact and was offering face-to-face meetings.

Financial compensation, apologies and counselling were being considered.