For several years, we have been hearing about the abuse and violence faced by the women Australia has sent to Nauru. That abuse and violence is the focus of an important report, Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned: Women on Nauru at Risk, recently published by Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru.
The report explains the history behind offshore processing, and the roles both major political parties played in getting here. It also includes a brief history of Nauru itself that provides some context for how Nauru has treated women. Most importantly, the report provides an in depth analysis of the lived consequences of Australia’s policies.
At the heart of the report are the stories of five women on Nauru. Through their stories, we learn about the abuse and discrimination experienced by women on Nauru, and its impacts on their mental health. Importantly, the report demonstrates how both the Nauruan and the Australian governments have not, and cannot, address these serious concerns.
The report amply demonstrates a pattern of abuse. In 2015, the main government contractor on Nauru reported that there had been 30 formal allegations of child abuse, 15 allegations of sexual assault or rape, and four allegations relating to the exchange of sexual favours for contraband. The report also includes direct reports from the women themselves, as well as academics, lawyers and healthcare professionals.
How has a country like Australia has allowed this to happen? The report notes that some of these stories have influenced public opinion positively. Yet, as Professor Michael Dudley, one of Australia’s most senior mental health experts, said recently:
public numbing and indifference towards state abuses in Nazi Germany resembles that enabling Australia’s immigration detention centres.
While the report demonstrates the failure of Nauru’s government, ultimately the responsibility is ours. As the report states:
While Australia’s regional processing centres have no doubt injected money into the community, they have also … added complex responsibilities, such as the processing of asylum claims, the education of refugee children, providing healthcare for a traumatised group of reluctant settlers, and the difficult task of dealing with violence and social conflict as a result of the new population. These demands on the state would test even the most well-resourced and ethical government.
The report calls on the Australian Government to abide by its human rights obligations, to close the detention centre on Nauru and to transfer people currently on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia.