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Salvation Army abuse at 'severe end' of scale

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Salvation Army 'didn't believe' abused children

A royal commission into child-sex abuse has heard Salvation Army staff disbelieved and punished children who reported sexual abuse.

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Raymond Carlile's little brother was so hungry he had started eating grass.

After months of being fed scraps of fruit and vegetables that were intended for farm animals at a Salvation Army boys' home in Queensland his wasn't the only stomach that was grumbling.

''They kept a load of raw potatoes under the building and we used to go under there and steal them when we were hungry,'' Mr Carlile, now in his 70s, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday.

Scene of the crime: the Bexley Boys' Home in North Bexley, which was run by the Salvation Army.

Scene of the crime: the Bexley Boys' Home in North Bexley, which was run by the Salvation Army.

Mr Carlile's story is just a tiny glimpse of the deprivation and abuse suffered by scores of young boys at the hands of the Salvation Army at boys' homes in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the commission heard.

In his opening address, counsel assisting the commission, Simeon Beckett, set out horrific allegations of brutal sexual and physical abuse in which boys aged 6 to 17 were raped and forced to have sex with each other under threat of extreme physical violence that included being flogged, beaten and locked up in cages for up to nine days at a time.

The Salvation Army's leadership often failed to discipline or remove the perpetrators, he said, but simply moved them to other homes where they often continued the abuse.

In subsequent years the organisation's Eastern arm has received 153 separate claims from former ''home boys'' and girls.

''The abuse that is to be detailed in the course of this case study is likely to be disturbing and at the severe end of sexual abuse considered by the royal commission,'' Mr Beckett said.

The commission will focus on four Salvation Army boys' homes as it seeks to uncover how the institution responded to alleged systemic abuse within its ranks - Bexley Boys' Home in North Bexley, the Gill Memorial Home in Goulburn, the Alkira home for boys in Indooroopilly, Queensland, and the Riverview Training Farm, also in Queensland.

At the centre of the allegations are five senior Salvation Army officers who ran the homes at various times - Lawrence Wilson, Victor Bennett, John McIver, Donald Schultz and a man identified as X17.

The ''most prolific of the alleged child sex abusers'', Mr Beckett said, was Wilson, who was allowed to run the boys' home at Bexley for years in the 1970s despite complaints about his behaviour in the preceeding decade, including at the Riverview home.

''Wilson seemed to enjoy inflicting pain,'' Mr Carlile said. ''He would froth at the mouth … and he just had this look in his eye.''

Not long after Mr Carlile arrived at Riverview aged eight, Wilson allegedly dragged him from his bed at night and raped him. At other times it is alleged he forced the boy to have sex with other boys while he watched and at times participated.

Afterwards, the boys were flogged and told not to tell anyone or the punishment would be more severe.

''The physical abuse inflicted by Wilson at Bexley was … violent and extreme,'' Mr Beckett said. ''Wilson oversaw the Bexley home at a time where sexual abuse was said to be widespread not only by him but also by the resident boys.

''In addition, other Salvation Army officers and staff abused residents, as did members of the public who (possibly through the knowledge of officers involved in sexual abuse) … had access to the boys' dormitories at night and would access the dormitories and sexually assault the boys.''

Wilson also allegedly sent boys off to the homes of other adults so that they too could participate in the abuse.

One witness, ES, is expected to tell the commission that he was placed in a cage on the verandah of the Riverview home for nine days.

McIver allegedly broke another boy's arm during an assault and on another occasion refused to allow a boy with a dislocated shoulder to attend hospital, instead forcing the injured shoulder ''back into its socket''.

''What the commission is learning over and over again is that a sexual abuse very often occurs in the context of physical abuse and deprivation,'' the chairman of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, said.

The hearing continues.

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