Yesterday, Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru released a report, Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned: Women on Nauru at Risk. It’s a powerful, and all too familiar, description that ends with recommendations for Australia, guilty of waging a war on women, through a campaign of systemic sexual violence and torture. While gruesome and horrifying, none of this is new, and the Australian government is not shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru. If anything, it’s proud of the system of routine, deterrent torture.
After briefly detailing the recent intensification of violence against women asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru, the report notes, “Ample evidence of the likely damaging impact of inde nite detention and lack of adequate health facilities on detainees was readily accessible when Labor reopened Nauru. For example, an Oxfam Report published in 2007 painted `a shocking picture of psychological damage for the detainees’ including mass hunger strikes, multiple incidents of self-harm and widespread depression and other psychological conditions. Oxfam may have been shocked, but this was already old news to those who had erected the Nauru adventure.
A page later, the report notes, “Stories of the sexual assault of women on Nauru both in the camps and in the community have been told in horrified whispers to trusted people. They are backed up by reports of shocking incidents.” Maybe ordinary people with a sense of conscience or humanity would find these incidents shocking, but, again, not the members of the Australian Parliament.
Repeatedly, the population was allowed to be shocked as long as its elected government refused the shock: “The Australian population had been shocked by vivid footage of the SIEV 221 carrying mainly Iranian asylum seekers foundering onto the jagged cliffs of Christmas Island in December 2010. More than 40 people died, including children and babies. In 2013, when Rudd was Prime Minister again, he announced that none of those detained in o shore centres would ever make it to Australia.”
In 2012, when an Expert Panel recommended the re-opening of offshore centers, “the refugee and human rights sector was visibly shocked.” The centers were re-opened.
There was no shock when one atrocity after another was reported, and there was no shock when the detention center and later the island itself became “a black site, with access to the island denied to the international media.” There can be no shock, given the purpose of Nauru. Nauru was set up as a dumping ground built on a legalistic nicety: “The detention centres on Nauru house women and children who arrived in Australia by sea seeking asylum after 19 July 2013 and who the Australian government has declared will not have their claims processed in Australia, nor will they be allowed to settle in Australia.”
The name for the policy that allows this toxic legerdemain is No Advantage. In 2001, Australia established offshore centers. In 2008, the Nauru center was closed. In 2012, under the No Advantage policy, the Nauru center was re-opened: “The basic premise was that asylum seekers arriving after 13 August 2012 would be given no advantage over those who waited for a humanitarian visa in a refugee camp overseas.” The result was predictable. Four years later, “No Advantage underpins the punitive offshore regime where even death by violence, death by medical neglect, rape of women and sexual abuse of children has not deterred either the current or the previous government from this policy.” No one is shocked.
“None of this will come as a shock to members of the Australian Parliament. Letters and photographs detailing the attacks on women have been sent to every Member of Parliament and Senator. They know what is happening on Nauru.”
The report is harrowing as was the last and as will be the next. Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru has done great work here. Their recommendations to Australia are eminently sensible and familiar: obey the law; close Nauru and Manus Island; transfer everyone to Australia; invest in ending violence against women on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.
But no one is shocked by “a deliberate policy of sending women who have already been exposed to sexual violence to a place where they are exposed to further violence.” No one is shocked by the torment of women on Nauru. We need a new kind of report. Let the next report on the atrocities in the camps focus on the members of Parliament who are not shocked. Show the faces of members of Parliament as they yawn and roll their eyes at the stories of rape and torture. Include mirrors, because right now, no one is shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru or anywhere else.