The Australian government and immigration department both knew about and ignored concerns about children being sexually abused at the Nauru Detention Centre, says former Save the Children worker Viktoria Vibhakar.
Viktoria Vibhakar was a child protection worker with Save the Children on Nauru until October 2014. She is one of 23 former and current Nauru detention teachers, social workers and child protection staff who have signed an open letter calling for the removal of all asylum seekers from the island to Australia.
Viktoria and the 22 staff members who joined her in signing the letter said they all felt a duty to disclose the real conditions of Nauru despite confidentiality clauses put in place in their contracts and pressure from managers to keep silent.
“We felt a moral, ethical and professional obligation to ensure that the Australian people know [that allegations of] abuse occurring on Nauru, revealed by the Moss review, had been going on with the government’s full knowledge for 17 months.”
She said the government’s claims in response to Moss, that it had acted immediately to stamp out “abhorrent” alleged child sexual abuse, was not matched by its actions.
“They allowed this to happen; they knew and they allowed it to happen. This is the broader issue: why did the government not appropriately respond to the allegations of child abuse, the sexual assault of women, and the exploitation of women in a timely manner. Why was that simply allowed to happen? And what makes them trustworthy now?”
She said she was constantly frustrated in her efforts to protect children there better or to remove them from harmful situations.
“When we were concerned children were being groomed for sexual abuse and were allegedly being abused, we reported these issues up the chain of command, we wrote incident reports, we documented harm in case notes and other client documentation, and we raised these issues in meetings,” she said.
“But all of this was absolutely ignored by department of immigration. Save the Children was not allowed to remove children who in our professional judgment were unsafe.”
She said one asylum seeker girl, aged younger than six, was constantly targeted by men inside the camp.
“She went from trying to squirm out of adults’ company and touching, to trying to initiate sexual contact with adult males. She would go into another person’s tent and ask them to touch her inside her vagina.
“The government was aware of this behaviour, because it was detailed in her case notes, but allowed her to stay in Nauru for months and months and months.”
Mrs. Vibhakar had already resigned from Save the Children when her name was put forward as one of 10 Save the Children workers the government wanted removed from the island for allegedly encouraging self-harm and protests among asylum seekers.
Vibhakar said part of the motivation in singling out and sacking 10 staff was to keep others from speaking out.
“I believe it was done, in part, to make other people frightened for their jobs, and their careers. And it succeeded to a certain extent. People were fearful of reporting things they knew they needed to report, they were fearful of being written up for doing something wrong when they were just doing their jobs.”
A federal Senate inquiry is to examine allegations of sexual assault on Nauru.
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young called for women and children to be removed from the island.
“Even since the damning Moss report has been released, minister Dutton has continued to deport more children back to the hellhole of the Nauru detention camp,” she said.
“There is no moral justification for the government to keep young women and children locked up in Nauru where they are vulnerable to further abuse.”
Source: The Guardian