What child abuse occurred within the Salvation Army?

Published 08 Dec 2017

The Salvation Army is among Australia's most venerated charitable organisations. The institution, which is part of the evangelical Christian Church, has operated in the country since the late 19th century.

Renowned for providing support to some of Australia's most vulnerable people, the Salvos recently found itself at the centre of a child abuse scandal.

Last year, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse published a report that criticised the organisation for its lacklustre approach to protecting children staying at Salvation Army homes.

Survivors detail abuse at institutional homes

The royal commission heard from child abuse victims that lived at four Salvation Army homes in Australia: Box Hill and Bayswater in Victoria, Nedlands in Western Australia, and Adelaide's Eden Park.

Several wards of the state came forward to detail the physical, mental and sexual abuse they experienced as youngsters at the hands of Salvation Army officers, employees and other residents.

A number of the men described incidents involving Sergeant Willem Willemson, who was known to the children at Box Hill as 'Black Willie'.

These claims included that Sergeant Willemson performed medical examinations where he fondled their genitals, as well as times when he climbed into boys' beds to abuse them.

One victim said Sergeant Willemson put a knife to his throat on multiple occasions as a threat not to tell anyone about the abuse.

Salvation Army compensation claims

Sergeant Willemson was eventually convicted of three counts of indecent assault in 1995, with his victim receiving $32,500 in compensation.

According to the Salvation Army, it has paid $18 million in damages between 1995 and 2014 to former residents who suffered abuse. The organisation received more than 400 claims of misconduct over the 10-year period.

Nevertheless, the royal commission was damning in its verdict of how allegations of abuse were handled in the past.

"In many instances, where knowledge of physical or sexual abuse was brought to the attention of the Salvation Army, it failed to follow its own orders and regulations," the commission's report stated.

"Other former residents gave evidence that they were threatened with physical harm if they did report their abuse or that they attempted to report their abuse to the officers and employees of the Salvation Army, but they were not believed and were accused of telling lies."

However, recent legislative changes in NSW and other states mean that time limits on sexual abuse compensation claims have been lifted. Survivors may now be eligible for financial redress relating to incidents that happened decades in the past.

Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers for more information.