The smoking gun testimony: Scott Morrison, Nauru, sexual abuse and cruelty

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Scott Morrison

Yesterday an account in the Australian Guardian summarised a report on how former Immigration and Border Protection minister Scott Morrison had been informed as long back as December 2013 by social worker Kirsty Diallo of at least one case of child sexual abuse at the Nauru detention centre. In the interests of greater transparency we publish the entire testimony of Ms. Diallo – what she witnessed, whom she reported to, when she reported what she had witnessed, as well as many other examples of abuse at the centre she had observed. The testimony is not only damning of the centre and of Australian Government policy and practice, but provides equally damning evidence of how Morrison failed in his duty to protect these vulnerable children, sat on the information provided to him for over a year, and not once admitted his knowledge of what happened (presumably as part of a wider Government cover-up that also included contractors Transfield and Wilson Security). This is the smoking gun that blows apart the moral facade of the Abbott-led government. Morrison should now fall on his proverbial sword and resign from his current ministerial position; Abbott is equally guilty of cover-up and should also go.

(Note: apart from headings and subheadings, all text below in bold is by UndercoverInfo.)

Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru Submission 64. Regional Processing Centre Nauru – Senate Submission.

by Kirsty Diallo (BRSW, BSocW & MICD)

I am writing this submission, to highlight the Government’s lack of appropriate response to known incidents of abuse, neglect and cruel treatment of children, in the Regional Processing Centre (RPC), Nauru.

I have worked on Nauru for two separate service providers – The Salvation Army and Save the Children Australia. The content of this submission will, however, focus on my work with Save the Children between 2013 and 2014, with children and families in the RPC. In addition to this I have added information that has been reported to me by families and other case managers who remained in the RPC or in the “settlement camps” after I resigned from my position in Nauru.

I’m writing this submission, as a qualified and experience professional, with extensive expertise in the area of childhood sexual assault, trauma and child abuse. I have been practicing as a Social Worker for over 17 years, and have worked throughout Australia and the UK in a variety of positions. Currently I am employed in a specialist child mental health service, working with children who, due to abuse and neglect, experience significant attachment and trauma related problems.

I am happy to provide verbal testimony regarding the details in the first part of this submission and consent to this information being made public.

Section 1: Sexual assault of children

On the 16th of November 2013, a 16-year-old boy was indecently assaulted by a local Nauruan staff member, who was employed by Transfield as a cleaner. The incident was interrupted by security staff, and the perpetrator confessed at this point that he had come in contact with the boy’s genitals. This incident was documented and the investigation detailed in an investigation report by Wilson Security and, according to policy, should have been forwarded on to DIBP (Appendix A). The local Nauruan police were called to meet with the child, the mother of the child, and the perpetrator, as was reported in the Wilson Security report.

During the investigation I made several attempts to find out about the rights of this child and mother, and researched the relevant legislation. I requested permission from my team leader to speak with local police, so I could support the family in the process. Emails from/to DIBP and Wilson Security (Appendix B), verify this and demonstrate that these services were aware of the reported sexual assault.

I was the allocated Child Protection and Support Worker for this child. However I was not involved in the investigation. Those that conducted the interview were also neither trained nor qualified to conduct any type of sexual assault interview of child or a parent. The incident report was forwarded onto DIBP and Wilson.

On the 17th of November 2013 I attended the RPC 3 to speak with the boy. I was advised that a security staff member needed to accompany me into the camp, and informed that there was no private space to talk with the child. As a result, I had to speak to the boy under a tree in the open space of the camp. I had an interpreter and a security staff member present. Such conditions would never be tolerated following a sexual assault in Australia. In Australia, following a sexual assault the victim would be provided initial crisis counseling and support by a suitably qualified social worker or psychologist. It would be the role of this counselor to explain to the victim their rights and to support them through the forensic process – should they wish to pursue this avenue. There is no statue of limitations in Australia when it comes to sexual assault, therefore the victim can at any time make a decision to pursue justice through the criminal system. In addition to this, if a minor was assaulted, the Police Unit responsible for child sexual assault investigations would also be contacted and in some instances the family may decide to proceed with a forensic interview. None of these options were available to this boy or his family following the assault as no strategies had been put in place to respond to sexual assaults of children, despite there being over 100 children in the camp at the time. I did, however, request to speak with the police regarding the process of reporting such a sexual assault in Nauru so that I could explain this to the family and support them through the process if they choose to make a formal statement. Evidence of this request and the response from [redacted] is found in Appendix B.

As stated in the email from [redacted], Child Protection workers were told “NOT to contact the Police”, rather the advice was discuss the matter with Wilson Security. Wilson Security is, however, not qualified and has no legislative mandate to investigate or take appropriate action related to sexual assault. Appendix B also confirms that DIBP were aware of the incident, as [redacted] was included in the email and the response to it. They were also aware of the directive given to Child Protection, which is in contrast to best practice guidelines in Australia and within Australian detention centres.

During the conversation with the boy he was visibly upset and stated repeatedly “this is a matter of my honour”. I also spoke with his mother, who sobbed through out the conversation stating “I bought my children to Australia to keep them safe, now this happens”.

I offered the family counseling with the specialist torture and trauma services (STTARS), as there was no sexual assault counseling available on Nauru. The family expressed fear of attending this service, as they had concerns about potential repercussions from local security staff that were present at the STTARS office.

Both the boy and his Mother, also expressed fear of pursuing the matter with the local police, and stated that they were scared that the local Nauruan staff in the RPC would blame them and subsequently they would experience further threats and abuse. I raised these concerns with the SCA Operations Manager, [redacted] on island at the time. [Redacted] stated that the family “should have pursued charges”. I expressed concern regarding the family’s safety and explained that I would never advise a family to pursue criminal charges if they remained in an environment where they could still be subject to further abuse. In response to this [redacted]  stated ‘well you can forget about getting them off Nauru, that will never happen, so you need to take that off the table’.

In Australia, this response would be inconceivable, as contemporary research related to childhood trauma, stresses the need for safety prior to any trauma recovery work commencing. It is essential that following abuse the child is no longer exposed to abuse, and that they are feeling both safe and secure where they are living. This essential component was not however available for this young person, or for any other children that were subjected to sexual or physical abuse in Nauru.

Following this incident of sexual assault, the boy’s behavior began to deteriorate. He rarely attended English classes, and when he did was reportedly disruptive and lacked concentration. I continued to advise that his behaviour was consistent with sexual assault trauma and that recovery from trauma was only possible if he was safe from further abuse.

This was recorded in the minutes for the weekly vulnerable minors meeting, which were then forwarded on to the SCA. SCA management advised that these minutes were used to advocate with DIBP in Australia regarding the needs of vulnerable minors that were in Nauru. We were also advised that any incident reports regarding children were forwarded on to senior staff in DIBP and then on to the minister for Immigration and Border protection.

In December 2013 I spoke with [redacted] regarding the incident, as he was conducting a routine visit to Nauru. I asked [redacted] if the incident report related to the sexual assault had been seen by the minster for DIBP. [Redacted] advised that this had occurred and the minister had definitely seen the incident report.

This incident highlights the fact that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Hon. Scott Morrison was aware in November 2013 that a child had been sexually assaulted by a local staff member employed in the RPC.

Despite this knowledge, no further steps were taken to protect this child or his family from being targeted by other local staff who remained in the centre. No further steps were taken to conduct working with children checks, or police checks of local staff, to ensure that potential threats to children were excluded from employment in the centre.

No forensic sexual assault services were established to respond to incidents of sexual assault, and security staff as well as local police received no additional training in regards to interviewing sexual assault victims.

Despite this, the Minister for DIBP continued to authorise the removal of children (including unaccompanied children) from Australia to Nauru. I believe that this gross negligence on behalf of the Australian Government. This needs to be investigated through the course of a Royal Commission, and an explanation needs to be provided to the Australian public regarding the role that the Government has played in covering up such abuse.

Currently there is a Royal Commission into institutional sexual abuse and the role that the Government plays in the abuse that occurred as a result of their inaction. It seems in Nauru however that the Australian Government has been complicit through inaction in the institutional abuse of children.

Section 2: Lack of institutional protection for children:

In addition to this specific incident of sexual assault, I wish to highlight the ongoing risk of sexual abuse of children as result of living in the RPC, or in the refugee camps in the community. As there is no child protection authority or legislation in Nauru, it is impossible to screen staff that work with these vulnerable children. Therefore there is no legislative or systemic strategies in place to reduce the access that sexual predators have to children in such an environment.

As a result, children and vulnerable women have been repeatedly exposed to sexual and physical violence and harassment in the RPC, as well as in the local community. These incidents have been documented and found to be credible in the recent Moss report. But there has still been no explanation provided by the Australian Government in regards to the role they have played in the institutions which have facilitated such abuse.

I would suggest that when the RPC was established, the Australian Government failed in their duty to ensure that the best interests of children were served in Nauru. An arrangement was made between the Australian and Nauru Government to place vulnerable children into an environment where their safety could never be ensured as a result of the lack of child protection legislation and infrastructure in Nauru. The risk posed as a result of this negligence is evident in the following example:

– A 4-year-old girl was transferred to Nauru; she had reportedly been exposed to some sexualised behaviour by an older child when in Christmas Island detention centre.

– It was noted by SCA that this child was regularly exposed to inappropriate behavior by Wilson Security and Transfield staff, as well as asylum seekers in the camp. This highlights the risk of placing children in an environment where many unknown persons have regular contact with children without any child protection strategies in place, such as police and working with children checks.

-SCA frequently observed this child being picked up and put on different men’s knees, at times she would wriggle and squeal in an effort to get away from the men.

-SCA became concerned about indiscriminate attachment and inappropriate displays of affection from the child to SCA staff and therefore adopted a ‘hands off policy’. The policy recommended staff avoid physical contact with children and instead of greeting children with hugs and picking them up, staff should offer a ‘high five or fist pump’. This strategy was put in place in lieu of the fact that there was no established child protection legislation.

-During my time in Nauru, this child was also subjected to abusive physical punishment by her father. On one occasion it was reported that at age 4 years she had been “hog tied” by her father. As there was no child protection legislation in place, this child could not be removed from her parents care, nor could an appropriate child protection investigation occur.

– This child went on to exhibit extreme sexualised behaviour and reportedly asked adults to insert things in her anus and/or vagina. This case illustrates the consequences when appropriate strategies are not put in place to protect children, and the manner in which risk can escalate when institutions fail to act. The reported sexualisd behaviour is indicative of sexual assault, and when considered in relation to the other identified risk factors it is reasonable to surmise that this child was in fact subject to further sexual assault while in the Nauru RPC. Despite these very significant concerns, it was not possible to put in place protective measures to prevent further harm to this child.

– In this instance a decision should have been made by DIBP to remove this child and her family from Nauru, to allow for a proper investigation and address the significant risks.

Section 3: Cruel treatment and neglect of children:

While working in Nauru, I also witnessed cruelty and neglect, which led to further deterioration in children’s psychological wellbeing. These incidents were a result of the Australian Governments action or inaction, and appear to be part of the policy implemented by DIBP.

In December 2013, arrangements were made for all the children to attend a school holiday program, outside of the RPC. The program was run by SCA, and DIBP completed the risk assessment and authorised the children to exit the camp each day. On the first day DIBP staff attended the RPC and requested that all children line up to await the buses. Children without suitable footwear were then removed from the line by DIBP staff and told they could not attend as they did not have suitable footwear. Many of the children began to cry, as they were missing out on an opportunity to leave the camp. This experience further traumatised the children, as they were exposed to unnecessary cruelty, being promised something and then having it taken away at the last minute. The program was particularly important as it was one of the very rare opportunities for the children to get out of the camp and it would be held in a real school, with desks and chairs. This incident was a direct result of DIBP decision-making, and directions given by DIBP staff on the day. It was cruel and unnecessary, and demonstrated a complete lack of regard for the circumstances in which the children lived. It was rare for children to have appropriate footwear in the RPC, and this was well known by all staff. Most children wore rubber thongs, which were often broken or had holes in the sole. On occasion I witnessed children with wire strapping the thongs to their feet. The Salvation Army were responsible for taking any request for clothing and for providing these items. Clothing had to be shipped in, and there was always delays which meant that children were without appropriate footwear, clothing and underwear for months at a time. The Salvation Army reported that they had regularly requested permission from DIBP to purchase items that had yet to arrive, from local shops, but this was refused by DIBP. As a result children were subjected to extended periods of neglect.

In Australia, this type of neglect would often warrant a child protection investigation and could result in children being removed from their biological parents. However, in Nauru this type of systematic neglect was accepted as normal, due to the persistent logistical and policy deficits in place. Neglect is recognised as a significant form of abuse, as it results in emotional and psychological harm to children.

On the 31/12/13 the majority of the children had attended a holiday program and were outside of the camp. During this time Wilson Security and the riot squad police raided the family camp, which meant everybody was removed from their tents and made to stand out in the sun for 4-5 hours while their tents were searched and left upturned. Everyone in the camp had their body searched with a pat down as well. Unfortunately there was a handful of children who remained in the camp, and were present when the tent was raided and were also subjected to a physical pat down by male security staff.

One particular 13-year-old girl had received threats while in the camp to her physical safety, and there had been threats of rape made to her older sister. This child was experiencing a noticeable deterioration in her mental state prior to the incident on New Years Eve. Her mother reported that her daughter had started wetting the bed, and would need her mother to hold her hand so she could fall asleep at night. Her mother (who was single mother) had also started putting containers of water at the entrance of the tent, to alert them of any intruders. The raid by security staff, only served to further terrify this girl, who was already presenting with symptoms consistent with trauma.

In addition to this, the children who were out of the centre were unable to return to their parents that evening, due to the raids. As a result, approximately 80 children had to remain in the administration camp until 10pm. During this time many of the children had become distressed and were crying, as they didn’t know what had happened and were fearful for their parents. Many of these children had previously experienced trauma from either their pre-migration experience, or as a result of their journey to Australia. This incident only further traumatised these children, as they were separated from their parents, who were a source of emotional comfort and security.

These incidents are used to outline the day-to-day deprivation, cruelty and distress that children in the RPC were regularly subjected to as a result of the lack of appropriate structure or facilities in the camp. They occurred with the full knowledge of the DIBP and seemed to reflect an overall policy of punishment.

While I understand the Australian Government’s desire to implement deterrent policies, I do not understand the need to cause further physical, sexual and psychological harm to vulnerable children who had no control over the decisions that their parents made when they fled their homelands. Surely the best interests of children should be a formative factor in any policy that has such a profound effect on children. The policy and practices surrounding the work in Nauru in no way reflects the best interests of children – rather it seems to reflect a desire to punish and cause maximum damage to those that are subjected to it.

I ask the Senate to reflect on the information in this submission and other submissions and consider if these policies and practices are consistent with ‘Australian values’ and if the voting public would accept their own children being treated this way.Consider if you would accept your children to be subjected to such trauma, time and time again, as a result of a Government’s desire to ‘stop the boats”.

Having seen this policy first hand on the ground in Naur I can honestly say that I am profoundly disappointed with the leaders of Australia, and ashamed to call myself Australian.

I would therefore ask that further investigation occur through the course of a Royal Commission to examine exactly how our Government can develop and persist with such an abhorrent policy, and be complicit in the abuse of children.

Note: Appendices A & B are not currently available.

Here is the above testimony as downloadable pdf.

See also:
Nauru refugee detention centre & child sex abuse: Inquiry testimony damning
Australian Govt under siege as more damning evidence of refugee detention centre emerges

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