A mother has told a child sex abuse inquiry how she felt betrayed by the Salvation Army after her daughter was abused by an officer.

An eight-year-old girl harmed herself after she was abused by a Salvation Army officer, her mother has told a royal commission hearing.

The child sex abuse commission is examining how the army responded to abuse complaints and on Wednesday heard from JH, whose daughter was abused by Colin Haggar, a Salvation Army captain who in 1989 confessed to the abuse.

JH on Wednesday described her daughter as a “gentle soul” who she said became quiet and withdrawn and “began to damage herself” after the sexual assaults.

Her daughter, referred to as JI, would not let her mother call a doctor and began picking at her skin.

JH said the scars were still visible.

The hearing in Sydney has been told the army protected Mr Haggar and supported him even when he was stood down for three years.

He was later readmitted and promoted to the rank of major and then lieutenant-colonel.

News of his promotion and Mr Haggar’s continued contact with her family, contributed to her having a breakdown, said JH, who gave her evidence by video-link.

They were living in a central western town in NSW when the abuse happened and JH and her husband were Salvation Army members.

JH ran the local op shop.

In 1989, Mr Haggar confessed to the couple that he had sexually abused their daughter.

“We just sat there in disbelief” when Captain Haggar told us “it wasn’t that serious, I only fingered her”, she said.

JH and her husband spoke with two senior officers about Mr Haggar’s admission but JH said she felt disbelieved.

In 1990 she received a letter from Mr Haggar and his wife saying “we are taking a break from the duties of officership so that we can spend time on our own spiritual path.”

The Haggars had been stood down and moved to Lidcombe.

JH said Mr Haggar wrote to the family about his attempts to re-enter the army.

He also contacted JH saying he would be driving through and wanted to see “how my daughter was doing”.

“I never wanted to see him or let him meet with our daughter”, JH said.

“I began having panic attacks”.

In 1993 Mr Haggar was re-admitted to the Salvation Army, promoted and was also on the Salvation Army’s cabinet.

JH said she and her husband did not go to police at the time because they understood that the Salvation Army would bring the matter to the attention of the police.

“We believed them,” she said.

JH said she became severely depressed and later felt huge guilt because she was not there for her daughter.

She said her family was never offered any support or counselling.

They left the corps in May 1991.

Recently “out of the blue” the army offered counselling and help, she said.

JH has also received a letter from Salvation Army Commissioner James Condon who expressed his sadness and offered the services of the army.

“If they let me down so badly all those years ago, why should I let them in now,” she said.