Former child residents who suffered years of abuse at a Darwin Aboriginal children’s home have been vindicated after a royal commission found the Christian organisation that ran the centre repeatedly failed to protect them.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found the Australian Indigenous Ministries (AIM), which ran Darwin’s Retta Dixon home for mixed-race Aboriginal children, “did not meet the obligations that it had to children in its care”.
But the findings, released on Wednesday, have not ruled if the Commonwealth failed in its duty of care as there was no evidence federal authorities were aware of abuse allegations made after 1966 or of the failed prosecution of house parent Donald Henderson, who was accused of abusing children in his care.
“However, a question remains as to whether in the circumstances the Commonwealth should have taken remedial action to protect the residents of the home from sexual abuse,” the commissioners said.
During commission hearings in Darwin last September, AIM accepted that during the home’s operation from 1946 to 1980 it did not have guidelines or procedures to help staff deal with child sexual abuse allegations and that it also failed to provide adequate training.
It also accepted it did not remove staff accused of physically, emotionally and sexually abusing children after they were reported to AIM authorities.
Ten former residents gave harrowing evidence about the abuse they suffered, including a girl being hit so hard her nose broke, children being force-fed until they were sick and then having to eat the vomit, children being chained to beds, being raped by Henderson and sexually abused by other children and being punished for trying to report the assaults.
Abuse charges relating to five children were laid against Henderson in 1975, but were dropped by the Department of Public Prosecutions, which the royal commissioners found was wrong.
A public apology and counselling was only offered by AIM during the September commission hearings.
At first the organisation said it could not afford financial redress, but then agreed to sell a property worth between $350,000-$380,000 to do so.
The commissioners have recommended AIM, the NT and federal governments consider creating a permanent memorial on the site of the home, as former residents have expressed a desire for one.