SYDNEY (AFP) - Children were sodomised with a garden hose, locked in outdoor cages and savagely beaten by Salvation Army majors in graphic cases of abuse detailed on Tuesday to an Australian inquiry.
A Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Australia began hearing evidence into allegations of abuse at four Salvation Army homes for children between 1966 and 1977, which counsel assisting the inquiry Simeon Beckett warned would be "shocking to many".
"The abuse that is to be detailed before the Royal Commission in the course of this case study is likely to be disturbing and at the severe end of sexual abuse," he said in his opening address.
The investigative commission was established by former prime minister Julia Gillard in response to a series of child sex abuse scandals involving paedophile priests, though she insisted the probe would be much broader than the Catholic Church.
It is examining allegations of child sexual abuse in places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.
Mr Beckett said that at the homes run by the Christian Salvation Army, "boys were frequently punched by the officers with closed fists, thrown on the ground with force or up against a wall" or caned and whipped with straps until they bled.
"One boy had his shoulder dislocated by an officer during a punishment which involved hitting his testicles with a leather strap. Two boys were locked in cages on a verandah," he said.
Mr Beckett said corporal punishment and sexual abuse were frequent. One boy was punished after running away by having a "hose (inserted) into his anus" and "was placed in a cage on the home's verandah for a week" after complaining that another boy was abusing him.
"When he was released from the cage he was forcibly sodomised by (a) major," he said.
Other boys were burned with cigarettes, had detergent forcibly poured down their throats, and one was forcibly dragged from his bed at night and raped by Major Lawrence Wilson - described by colleagues as a "brutal and evil man".
According to Mr Beckett, the Salvation Army has paid out A$1.2 million (S$1.53 million) to date to Wilson's victims. He died in 2008.
Wilson would conduct a daily "sick parade" in which he would single out boys to be physically inspected in private and sexually assault them.
Sexual abuse at one children's home called Bexley was widespread, not only by Wilson but also among the boys who lived there, Mr Beckett added.
"In addition other Salvation Army officers and staff abused residents, as did members of the public. These persons had access to the boys' dormitories at night and would access the dormitories and sexually assault the boys," he said.
Ms Kate Eastman, counsel for the Salvation Army at the Royal Commission, expressed the religious group's "deep regret".
"We acknowledge that it was a failure of the greatest magnitude," she said, insisting that today's Salvation Army had strong policies in place "so that children will never be placed in situations like this again".