A FORMER resident of the Gill Memorial Boys Home has alleged that it was not only Salvation Army officers that sexually abused residents.
Using the pseudonym, GH, a 52-year-old Canberra man told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that he was sexually assaulted by a boy as a seven or eight-yearold at the Home.
It allegedly happened in the locker room as both were getting changed after band practise.
“The older boy (who was tall and skinny and three or four years older than me) cornered me…in between two lockers where there was plenty of privacy,” GH said.
“All of a sudden he started hugging me and said: ‘I am not going to hurt you, just going to have cuddles.’”
“At first I did not think there was anything wrong with the hugs, but all of a sudden I did not know what was going on and I knew that what he was doing was not normal.
“He pinned me down on the floor and penetrated me until he was satisfied.”
GH said he was so terrified that he ensured he was never again alone with the boy. It was the only time he was sexually abused at the institution.
GH said after he joined the Salvation Army as a junior soldier at age eight or nine, he felt “better protected”.
He told the Commission the sexual and physical abuse he endured at Gill had long-term effects.
He was depressed, experienced anxiety, had suicidal thoughts, a persistent skin condition caused by stress and in 2011 had “a complete mental breakdown” and spent six weeks in a psychiatric facility.
GH claimed that Salvation Army Officer X17 had his group of “favourite” boys that he protected at all costs. This group would frequently bash up other boys not in the group.
GH said he came to Gill in March, 1966, just days short of his fifth birthday.
He was perhaps the youngest resident and was sent there after his mother was physically abused by his stepfather, he told the hearing.
His grandmother worked in the Home’s sewing room and GH vividly recalled sleeping in there by himself at night.
“I remember being alone and scared and I would cry every night. No one ever came to comfort me,” he said.
“I was admitted into the main Home on 22nd March, 1966 after I turned five. I was moved into a big dormitory with 30 to 40 other boys.
“I recall all of the boys at the Gill Home were known by a number rather than a name. I was number 73.”
GH recalled a regimented lifestyle at the Home and severe punishment whenever he wet his bed, which happened often.
Captain X11 (a pseudonym) would rub his face in the wet sheets, parade him in front of other boys and make him take a cold shower, even in winter. He became so scared of the punishment that he remade his bed with wet sheets.
“I did not stop the bed wetting until I was about nine.
This meant that families would be reluctant to billet me out during school holidays,” he told the hearing.
He remembered the canings for small misdemeanours, being made to sweep the playground with a toothbrush, peeling half a sack of potatoes and cleaning “50 pairs” of shoes as punishment.
Some boys were made to eat their own vomit when they became sick from food, including weevil infested porridge, he claimed.
But GH said there were also some “very kind” people within the Salvation Army, such as the bandmaster and his wife who took him under their wing at age 15, when he left the Home.
The Army had also helped him find work. In 1976 he joined the Sallies as a senior soldier. GH remains an active Salvationist today.
In 2006, after a visit by Salvation Army officer, Captain Chris Witts, he was awarded a $60,000 ex gratia payment and 10 counselling sessions for his suffering. In 2007, he received a $10,000 payment on the proviso he didn’t seek damages.
GH said he was hurt that during this second meeting, the Army representatives “thought that I was only after the money and that they did not seem sorry for what had happened to me.”
He broke down several times during evidence and concluded by saying he believed he was the Home’s youngest resident and spent more time there (11 years) than any other boy.
“I am scared of the dark and of closed rooms, especially if I am alone. I cannot enjoy mealtimes, even with my family,” he said.
“I feel afraid a lot of the time and feelings of anxiety make it hard for me to make decisions.”