The head of the Salvation Army in Australia has apologised to every victim of sexual abuse who suffered while living at several boys homes run by the organisation between 1897 and 1990, admitting they were profoundly let down. Speaking at a hearing of the royal commission into child sexual abuse in Adelaide, Salvation Army territorial commander Floyd Tidd said he was “profoundly sorry” for the abuse hundreds of children suffered, and for the impact it had on their lives and families. “Each of you were blameless, all of you were just children. You had a right to feel safe,” Mr Tidd said. “For the physical, sexual and emotional abuse you suffered while you were in our care … I am profoundly sorry.” Mr Tidd said his door would be open for any victim who wanted to tell him their story personally, as many victims had told the commission they had simply wanted to be heard and to receive a meaningful apology.
The commission has recently centred on the sexual abuse of boys living in Salvation Army homes in Western Australia’s Nedlands, Eden Park in Adelaide, and Victoria’s Box Hill and Bayswater. Evidence has also shown the Victorian and South Australian governments had been aware of abuse allegations at the Salvation Army homes for decades, but failed to properly investigate or address claims. Many victims have told the commission how their complaints fell on deaf ears, or they suffered further repeated abuse after seeking help from senior staff running the institutions. Mr Tidd said the abused boys had been let down by the Salvation Army because it had allowed officers who were the subject of complaints or who had been convicted of abuse to continue working at different homes.
“Yes, we failed to protect them,” he told counsel assisting, Sophie David SC. Victims have told the commission they never received apologies or that letters they did receive were insincere, and others were forced to sign deeds after being given paltry settlements of as little as $11,000. In response to the commission’s report on redress and civil litigation, released last month, Mr Tidd said the Salvation Army would reopen claims made since 1996. The army’s review would determine whether compensation already handed out was adequate, in light of perpetrators being convicted of offences after cases were settled. He said the Salvation Army would offer counselling if requested, and the organisation supported the creation of an independent national redress scheme.
The Salvation Army has paid out almost $18 million in response to more than 400 compensation claims since 1996. The commission also heard the Victorian government may have missed several complaints because it had reviewed files relating to governance but had not looked at individual case files which may have contained abuse allegations. Alan Hall, who heads the Victorian government’s department of Health and Human Services reporting division, admitted homes had not been properly supervised and inspectors had not been given adequate access to children on the rare occasions they visited sites.
MUSLIM LEADERS TOLD ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Muslim leaders often fail to back their rhetoric against individual acts of Islamic terror with concrete action, leading to a gulf that makes it more difficult to tackle radicalisation, according to Father Chris Riley, the founder of the successful charity Youth off the Streets. “You’ll hear them on radio when there’s a crisis,” he said, but they did not follow through with concrete programs. “They are so divided they can’t agree on anything,” he said. The federal government’s program to counter radicalisation of Muslims had been failing because it concentrated on “celebrating each other’s cultural differences” rather than integrating the young men with the broader community. While some Muslim leaders had told him they might launch a program if government funding were forthcoming, the real imperative was to be active, by any means possible now, including crowd sourcing.
“If kids are in trouble, get off your backside and do something, they are people from your community,” he said. Father Riley went on that “the failed anti-radicalisation strategies have attempted to help these young people by focusing on celebrating each other’s cultural differences through ideals of harmony, road safety and sex education. While well-intentioned, this approach overlooks one vital thing in that a sense of belonging can only be established through experience,” he writes. “Only through experiential learning, working with groups in collaborative programs, can we start to help these young people feel like they belong in Australia.” NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas said Muslim community leaders often had no control over the people police needed to target.
“You’ve got to get closer to the weeds,” he told ABC’s 7.30 program. “They have the best intentions but in many ways the community leaders cannot control or exert influence over kids who are heading in the wrong direction.” In an interview Father Riley cited the case of a 19-year-old from western Sydney whom he believed was vulnerable to radical Islamic propaganda, a situation that has become disturbingly familiar. “At least six of our kids from the western suburbs went to Syria, and two of them were killed almost immediately,” he said, explaining they had left to work or fight with the Islamic State terror group. “These kids have lost any sense of belonging to anyone, and therefore they are extremely vulnerable. They have such a sense of hopelessness that they will go anywhere that says they will have them.”
Father Riley had very little faith that either the federal government or Muslim community leaders were going to do much good for the 19-year-old, so he decided to intervene himself through direct interaction with the youth. He travelled with him on public transport to allay his fears that non-Muslims would attack him or verbally abuse him, and gave him a traineeship to learn to be a youth worker. Father Riley believes government programs don’t get at the root cause of disenchantment among Muslim youth, which he identifies as a lack of a sense of inclusion and purpose. Instead, the programs use intellectualised concepts like de-radicalisation. “What sort of word is that? Who would teach that in a classroom?” he said. Youth Off the Streets programs, aimed primarily at 15 to 21-year-olds, include schools and an outreach program with counselling, emergency accommodation, and other support services.
It emphasises “service learning”, where youths on the program help others. During the Victorian bushfires, the program took a group to play ball games and otherwise engage with the children of families adversely affected, allowing their parents to concentrate on rebuilding their lives. Another initiative took a group to Queensland after the floods to help clean up houses. “It’s about inspiring kids and giving them belonging by getting them involved in service to the community,” Father Riley said. With the 19-year-old, Father Riley tried to break down the young man’s sense of alienation within the broader Australian community. He listened to the youth’s claim that he and other Muslims felt persecuted by Australian authorities and some of the citizenry.
“This is a racist nation. People are defacing their mosques. They just have to deal with this every day,” Father Riley said. When the youth started claiming stories in the newspapers about ISIS committing barbaric acts were false he drew the line. “I told him, ‘If you believe the media is making this stuff up, you can’t work for me.’” Around Easter this year, the youth came up to Father Riley and said: “I love you brother, see ya.” Not long after, Youth Off the Street got word that the mobile phone it had issued the youth had been found sitting at the airport. Program officers informed the Australian Federal Police who, Father Riley said, tracked the 19-year-old down as having gone to Jordan, the last heard of him. “It’s tragic, this kid was such a good kid, and a real leader.”
VICTORIA TO LEAD NATION IN LEGALISING MEDICINAL CANNABIS
Federal law changes will be needed to ensure Victoria’s severely epileptic children can be treated with medicinal cannabis. The Victorian government says laws will be changed in the state to introduce Australia’s first legal supply of medicinal cannabis. It was recently handed a Victorian Law Reform Commission report outlining a model for medical-grade cannabis supply and what state laws need to be changed. Commonwealth laws will also need to be tweaked and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says this will be on the agenda at the next COAG meeting.