“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”

A cell at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre

Human Rights Watch released a report today, I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia, that describes the horror of prison for those living with disabilities. Prisoners living with disabilities are tortured in every way possible, from extended and extensive use of solitary confinement to sexual violence to physical and psychological torture to … The list is endless. One prisoner spent 19 years in solitary confinement. Prison-carers provide care for prisoners with high support needs. In one prison, six of the eight prison-carers are convicted sex offenders. At the center of this garden of earthly evil are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. At the center of that center are Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait women: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”. None of this is new.

HRW researchers reached women at Bandyup Women’s Prison, in West Swan, Western Australia, and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, in Wacol, Brisbane, Queensland. Both are infamous for chronic overcrowding and the occasional death in custody. Today’s report largely reiterates earlier findings. The hyper-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait women is “integrally linked to the social and economic disadvantages that result from years of structural discrimination.”

Many people with disabilities that we interviewed, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities, had experienced family and sexual violence multiple times in their lives. Facing sexual, physical, and verbal violence in prison, particularly from staff, perpetuates this cycle of violence and creates distrust between staff and prisoners. One woman with a disability told Human Rights Watch: “The officers [use] intimidation tactics. Especially for us girls, that just reminds us of our domestic violence back home, it scares us. If you want to get through to us, they should be nice to us.” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have high rates of psychosocial disabilities, intellectual disability, and trauma: “About 73 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and 86 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison have a diagnosed mental health condition …. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland prisons, 73 percent of male and 86 percent of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners had a diagnosed psychosocial disability”.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait women have more contact with police, generally, and the contact starts at a younger age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities “experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, domestic and sexual violence, and abuse than non-indigenous peers and peers without disabilities.”

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.”

None of this is new. These very issues came up in major reports published in  2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and last year. It’s a new year, and so we have another study that reports that Australia, like the United States, has invested a great deal in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The more vulnerable women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women suffer repeated trauma, and it’s their fault. Prisons are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Mass incarceration is destroying indigenous women and families, and that’s just fine. Everything is fine. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population.


(Photo Credit: ABC)

New Zealand declares seclusion rooms are unreasonable and oppressive

The seclusion room door

In December 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman ruled that a school should pay $3000 and issue a formal apology to the family of an 11-year-old autistic child who was put in a “seclusion room” 13 times in nine days. The seclusion room was a dark cell, without windows or light. The treatment of the child came to his parents’ attention, and then to that of the public, when a behavior therapist came to the school, and found the child alone, unmonitored, and crying for help. That was in October 2016. Soon after, it was “discovered” that the use of seclusion rooms was fairly common in so-called special schools across New Zealand. In November 2016, the Education Minister proposed banning the use of seclusion rooms in schools. That became law in early 2017.  At the end of 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman declared the school had acted “unreasonably and oppressively”. Later the Ombudsman explained, “I just think we’ve got to be careful and sensitive about those times when the going gets tough and when we need to, in schools, manage difficult, challenging behaviour like this. This report of ours is a reminder of the need for dignity and humanity at all times and it’s just something we should never ever forget and we should not take our eye off the ball.”

While the decision of the Ombudsman is a positive result, why does it take so much effort to recognize that seclusion rooms are an affront to dignity and humanity? As the Chief Ombudsman noted in his decision, the result only occurred because the child’s parents were furious when they discovered how their child was being abused and, critically, raised a ruckus. Why must parents raise a ruckus to have their children treated decently and humanely?

This isn’t only about minors. Ashley Peacock is an adult living with intellectual disability, autism and mental illness. Under New Zealand’s Mental Health Act, Ashley Peacock was a compulsory, institutionalized patient. In that capacity, Ashley Peacock had been placed in solitary confinement, “seclusion rooms,” for years on end. In 2016, his parents started a national and international campaign to get their son out of the hellhole of solitary confinement and into more appropriate community based services. In 2016, Ashley Peacock was 38 years old. He had spent ten years in “care” institutions. Most of that time, he spent in isolation. In 2017, Ashley Peacock was moved to a community location. In December 2017, New Zealand announced it would phase out seclusion rooms in psychiatric institutions within two years.

Advocates for autistic children worry that, despite the law, schools might still use seclusion rooms. Consider this: no one knows how many hours that eleven-year-old child spent in solitary confinement, crying and pleading for help, because there are no records kept. In other schools, teachers refused to talk to police about their use of seclusion rooms. Hopefully, New Zealand will invest in enforcement of the new laws, but more will be needed. We must ask ourselves about our investment in torture that passes for education, on one hand, and for care, on the other. Why should parents have to be furious in order to keep their children, at all ages, from being tortured? When did solitary confinement become an integral part of education? When did the vulnerable become the execrable, the cursed?


(Photo Credit: New Zealand Herald)

There are no plans to close the camp in Nauru

“There are no plans to close the camp in Nauru.” Thus ends Reuters “Factbox: Why does Australia detain asylum seekers in offshore camps?”. The “Factbox” relates the current situation in the closed detention centers on Manus Island and, to a much lesser extent, on Nauru. Last year, the Papua New Guinea High Court declared the Manus detention center illegal. Last month, Australia closed the center and tried to move its 700+ men to another center, one without running water. 600 some men decided to stay and have occupied the center since, at great risk to their own lives. Journalist and Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani, imprisoned on Manus Island since August 2014, wrote, “Death is always ever so present. Death. The breath of death. The scent of death. The reign of death over Manus prison. This is the reality of living out here.” Death. This is Australia’s vaunted “Pacific Solution”: horror, torture, death. Take the bodies, the more vulnerable the better, and throw them in a pit, far away, where the “good people” of Australia need not see or hear them cry. Pregnant women, children, men, survivors all, throw them away. To re-open the “Factbox”, “So far, no `boat person’ detained on Manus or Nauru has been resettled in Australia.”

Last year, all eyes were on Nauru. Leaked reports last year showed that 2,000 incidents of sexual abuse, assault and attempted self-harm had occurred. Many of these involved children. The United Nations chastised Australia and Nauru for their failure, call it refusal, to protect asylum seeker and refugee children from sexual abuse. Amnesty International called the conditions on Nauru torture. Currently, Australia detains 369 people on Nauru. 46 of them are women, and 43 are children.

By air, Nauru is a little over 2000 miles from Brisbane, and, for those detained and tortured there, galaxies and light years away. And for Australians? Why does Australia detain asylum seekers in Nauru? Why is Australia not only not shocked but proud of its torture of refugee and asylum seeker children, women, and men on Nauru? Why does Australia hate pregnant and abused women asylum seekers on Nauru? The answer? “There are no plans to close the camp in Nauru.” There is no more to be said.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Saba Vasefi)

What happened to Raynbow Gignilliat? The routine torture of solitary confinement

Raynbow Gignilliat

“They didn’t treat her for two months and she was left in a manic state. Basically, in all aspects, I would call it torture,” said attorney Jack Jacks, discussing the final months of Raynbow Gignilliat’s short life. Raynbow Gignilliat, 39-year-old mother of three, was arrested in October 2013. She was sent to the Sandoval County Jail, in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where she spent two months in solitary confinement. Then she was sent to an emergency room. Then, against doctors’ orders, she was returned to solitary. In January 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was sent to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute. In the Spring 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was released from the hospital and all charges against her were dropped. By June 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was dead. The reports say she “committed suicide”, but her family and supporters know that Raynbow Gignilliat was killed by State torture.

From the moment Raynbow Gignilliat encountered the so-called criminal justice system to today, almost three years after her death, from beginning to end, this is a story of State violence, viciousness and brutality. Raynbow Gignilliat had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. For most of her life, she had managed her mental health without medication. Then, things fell apart, largely due to a messy divorce and custody battle. In late October 2013, Raynbow Gignilliat was arrested on a domestic battery charge, following a dispute with her mother, with whom she was living. Her mother called the police, hoping they would take her daughter to the hospital. Instead, they arrested her and sent her off.

After about two weeks in custody, Raynbow Gignilliat was moved into solitary confinement, also known as segregation. Remarkably, there are no records to explain this move. Once in solitary, Raynbow Gignilliat’s health deteriorated swiftly. Staff watched as she covered herself in feces, punched herself, dunked her head in her toilet water, hallucinated, screamed. Staff watched Raynbow Gignilliat’s increasing and intensifying dementia for six weeks. Finally, they sent her to an emergency room, where doctors said she should be sent to a psychiatric hospital or she would die. Instead, she was returned to solitary confinement, where she sat for another month, begging for help in the only way she could, through self-harm.

Finally, in January, Raynbow Gignilliat was moved to a hospital where she received treatment. While there, all charges against her were dropped. When Raynbow Gignilliat was released from the hospital, she was free … to kill herself. Her family says the damage had already been done. She was not the same woman.

Last week, Sandoval County agreed to a settlement of $1.8 million, to be distributed to trust funds for each of Raynbow Gignilliat’s children. The jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, has also settled, for an undisclosed amount. Sandoval County is quick to note that its insurance company covers this sort of thing, and so Sandoval County is only on the hook for $15,000.

Meanwhile, the case of Raynbow Gignilliat led to the discovery of the abuse and torture of Sharon Vanwagner, who was also booked in the Sandoval County Jail in October 2013, who lives with psychosis and delusions, who spent three months in solitary confinement, who deteriorated rapidly and dramatically, and whose charges were ultimately dropped.

What happened to Raynbow Gignilliat and Sharon Vangwaner, what is happening to so many women living with mental illness in county jails across the country? “Basically, in all aspects, I would call it torture.”


(Photo Credit: KOAT TV)

“There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old to want to kill herself”

In the United States, children are routinely thrown into solitary confinement, often for the most trivial reasons and often for long periods of time. As of a study conducted last year, 28 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of punitive solitary confinement in juvenile correctional facilities. This list of 29 includes jurisdictions that allow up to four hours per day. Additionally, of these 29 states, 25 allow for solitary confinement for non-punitive reasons, such as so-called safety concerns. Of the 25, 12 allow for indefinite solitary confinement of juveniles … for their own good. These are the `good’ states. At the other end, seven states have no limits on solitary confinement of juveniles: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Texas, and Wyoming. The remaining 15 states offer a smorgasbord of juvenile solitary confinement offerings, ranging from six hours to 90 days. Four states allow for children to be thrown into the hole for more than 5 days. North Carolina and West Virginia allow for up to 10 days isolation. Until last year, California allowed for 90 days of isolation. As of January 1, 2017, new laws went into effect concerning California’s use of solitary confinement for children. With that change, Wisconsin became the winner of the race to hell, with its allowance of up to 60 days in isolation for children. This week, four children, and their attorneys, families, friends and supporters, said NO MORE, and filed a lawsuit. This is the story of Meranda Davis’ daughter, known as KD, currently held at Copper Lake School for Girls, one of two juvenile detention facilities in Wisconsin. It’s not a school, and it’s not for girls. It’s hell, and it has been so for a long time.

The lawsuit opens: “The State of Wisconsin operates the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, which incarcerate approximately 150-200 youth who are as young as 14 years old, in remote northern Wisconsin. The State routinely subjects these youth to unlawful solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spraying. Prior to state and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility. Currently, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections officials lock up approximately 15 to 20% percent or more of the facilities’ young residents in solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Many of these children are forced to spend their only free hour of time per day outside of a solitary confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table. Officers also repeatedly and excessively use Bear Mace and other pepper sprays against the youth, causing them excruciating pain and impairing their breathing.”

While the situation is cruel and usual torture, the real point is that two years ago, the federal government put Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools on notice, and not only did nothing happen, the situation actually worsened. As Laurence Dupuis, attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, noted, “Usually when the ACLU shows up, people start changing their habits and things get a bit better. We saw none of that here.”

Meranda Davis takes the story from there: “If you choose to steal cars, you deserve to wind up in a juvenile jail. I know that. But nobody deserves to be treated the way they treat people in there … She call me crying after getting out of solitary. They send kids for two weeks just for talking back in class. One time, they were punishing a girl in solitary, so they just fired a whole can of pepper spray into the unit. Everyone was coughing and crying. My daughter was coughing up blood … She said that they kept on throwing her in confinement and she basically lost her mind. She had a seizure. She just lost her mind and didn’t know what to do because she didn’t have any support. She just was like thrown in a room and nothing.” According to Meranda Davis, her daughter tried to kill herself, “There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old, she was 14 at the time, to want to kill herself.”

There’s something really really wrong with a State and in a nation that drives children to suicide. Copper Lake School for Girls and Lincoln Hills School for Boys should be shut down, but that is only the beginning. We can’t continue to throw children into cages, we can’t continue to throw away their lives and the lives of their families and communities, and we can’t continue to condone and support torture. End solitary confinement of children now. End solitary confinement now. Without delay and without exception. As Meranda Davis said of her daughter, “She has big hopes and she is the reason I am standing here right now. I want her changed. I don’t want to see her come out a wicked person times 10.”


(Photo Credit 1: Kyle Rogers/Northwoods River News) (Image Credit: New York Times/Amanda Lanzone)

Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s blood flows over all of us

Faysal Ishak Ahmed died on Saturday or was it yesterday … or was it six months ago. Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, collapsed inside the detention center on Manus Island, the dumping grounds for those refugees and asylum seekers who seek haven in Australia. This is the same Manus Island where 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed two years ago. Eight months ago, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared the detention center illegal. Papua New Guinea and Australia have “agreed” to close the center, but, to no one’s surprise, no time frame has been set. Faysal Ishak Ahmed did not collapse nor did he suffer a seizure. He was killed, and his blood joins the blood of Reza Barati; their blood flows everywhere.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s story is all too familiar. For at least six months Faysal Ishak Ahmed complained of chest pains, swollen arms and fingers, high blood pressure and a pain at the back of his head, seizures, blackouts and breathing difficulties. He begged and pleaded for medical care. Fellow prisoners begged and pleaded on his behalf. He wrote letters; fellow prisoners wrote letters. He deteriorated; he received no medical care. When he finally died, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated a refugee “has sadly died today from injuries suffered after a fall and seizure at the Manus Regional Processing Centre”. There is no sadness like sadness. Jesus wept, the State shrugged.

The story continues. Manus Island prisoners rebel for a while. Letters are written, protests are lodged, pictures and drawings emerge. In Sudan, Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s parents say they want their body returned to them. They also say that they have not been formally informed of his death by anyone from the Australian or the Papua New Guinean governments. The State’s great and deep sadness continues to oppress the vulnerable and the hurting.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed is just another name, just another death, in the litany of neoliberal global ethics in which he must bear full responsibility for the site of his birth, the color of his skin, and the nature of his faith. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he spent three years in prison on Manus Island. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he ever asked anyone for help, safety, or haven. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he begged for six excruciating, agonizing months without any attention. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that the medical staff consistently claimed he was malingering and returned to his bed. It’s his fault, it’s altogether Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that his blood flows over all of us. We are innocent, we never saw him, we never knew. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault.


(Photo Credit 1: SBS Australia) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian)


A woman asylum seeker on Nauru discusses the abuse she’s suffered

Australia is “shocked” by the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers (October 2015). Australia is NOT shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru (June 2016). It’s August now, so here goes: AUSTRALIA IS NOT SHOCKED BY THE ROUTINE TORTURE OF WOMEN ASYLUM SEEKERS ON NAURU. Is anybody listening? Does anybody care? Another month, another devastating report on the systemic torture of women, children, men asylum seekers, by the Australian government, in Nauru. The language is strong, the pictures distressing, the analysis trenchant, the conclusion clear … yet again. The government denies everything, people claim shock and dismay; the women and children and men prisoners on Nauru continue to suffer intense degradation and torture, all according to plan. None of this is new, and, in that redundancy, none of us is innocent. We share the shame … or we will, someday.

This week’s report, Australia: Appalling abuse, neglect of refugees on Nauru: Investigation on remote Pacific island finds deliberate abuse hidden behind wall of secrecy, is a collaboration between Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Reiterating the kinds of torture imposed on women has become a kind of asylum pornography. Once a month, belly up to the window, plunk in your currency, and wait for the curtain to rise and the show to begin. The stories are exactly the stories one has come to expect: abuse, sexual coercion and violence, abysmal health care, absent mental health care, filthy living conditions, despair, despair, despair.

What is somewhat specific to Nauru, but barely, are the extremes to which the Australian government has gone, both in terms of cruelty and secrecy. As Anna Neistat, Amnesty’s Senior Director for Research, noted, “Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme. Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.” Michael Bochenek, Senior Counsel on Children’s Rights at Human Rights Watch, added, “Australia’s atrocious treatment of the refugees on Nauru over the past three years has taken an enormous toll on their well-being. Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru.”

Australia and Nauru have colluded in building “a wall of secrecy” not only around the conditions of life, and death, among asylum seekers, but they’ve managed to weave that wall into the fabric of the asylum seekers’ lives and community as well as that of the nation: “The Australian government’s offshore operation on Nauru is surrounded by a wall of secrecy, with both Australia and Nauru going to great lengths to prevent the flow of information off the island. Service providers and others who work on the island face criminal charges and civil penalties under Australian law if they disclose information about conditions for asylum seekers and refugees held offshore. Nauru has banned Facebook on the island and has enacted vaguely worded laws against threats to public order that legal experts fear could be used to criminalize protests by refugees and asylum seekers. Journalists in particular face severe restrictions on entry, with an $8,000 non-refundable visa fee and a protracted application process. Nauru has granted visas to just two media outlets since January 2014. Other requests have been rebuffed or met with no response. UN officials have been denied entry or in some cases have concluded that a visit would be impractical due to severe limitations on their access.”

What starts in Nauru spreads to the entire nation. According to another report issued this week, “Almost half the deaths in immigration detention over the past five and a half years remain unsolved, including two deaths from 2013 and three deaths from 2014 … Since January 2011, 21 people have died in immigration detention, including 18 in onshore detention. The death toll could be higher, as the figures do not include all stillbirths, infants who died in hospital shortly after birth, or miscarriages of people in immigration detention. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection refused to answer questions about infant mortality and miscarriages among detainees and a Freedom of Information request was rejected, despite new claims women detained at Nauru suffer from a high rate of pregnancy complications … Of the 18 deaths in onshore immigration detention since the beginning of 2011,two occurred at the Curtin detention centre in WA, two at Yongah Hill in Northam (WA), two at Phosphate Hill on Christmas Island, four at Villawood in NSW, two in Sydney IRH, and one death each in Darwin, North West Point facility in NSW, Melbourne ITA, Maribyrnong IDC in Melbourne, Wickham Point IDC outside Darwin, and Scherger IDC in Weipa, Queensland. Six of the resolved cases were suicides. Of the 10 unresolved deaths, two were on Manus Island and one on Nauru, two at Yongah Hill, one at Villawood, one at Darwin, one at Phosphate Hill, one at Melbourne, and one at North West Point.”

Australia declared war on refugees and asylum seekers and then weaponized the bodies of women, children, and men who had already come to Australia seeking haven. They are just so much materiel meant to be used up or left behind, like shrapnel or land mines. It’s happening across Australia; it is Australia. AUSTRALIA IS NOT SHOCKED BY THE ROUTINE TORTURE OF WOMEN ASYLUM SEEKERS ON NAURU. Can you hear me now?

Refugee children protest their relocation to Nauru


(Photo Credits: Amnesty International)

Australia’s “I can’t breathe” moment … or not

Last night, Australians watched in horror as the investigative journalism series Four Corners showed the torture and abuse of children in a so-called juvenile justice facility in the Northern Territory. The show opens: “The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay…. or Abu Ghraib.. but Australia in 2015… A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement. Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.” It may “shocking” but none of it is new. We have known all along.

At a number of points in the near hour-long documentary, children are heard to plead, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” To no one’s surprise, their pleas go unattended, or worse, their pleas incite the guards to further and more intense violence. From Staten Island to Berrimah, where the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is located, “I can’t breathe”. Eric Garner haunts the world … to no one’s surprise.

To no one’s surprise, a majority of the children in the video and center are Aboriginal. To no one’s surprise, Indigenous incarceration in Australia is rampant.

To no one’s surprise, this very torture of Aboriginal children in custody had been reported, and largely ignored, last year. It takes a video to document the destruction of a child.

When indigenous leader Nova Peris was a Senator, she raised this very issue in Parliament, and now she asks, “How many more royal commissions do Aboriginal people have to get excited about? There was a lot of hope when the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was done, yet barely any recommendations were implemented. In 1997, the Bringing Them Home report about children in out-of-home care gave us hope, but what actually happened there, if anything? No-one listened. These kids need rehabilitation, they don’t need torture: hate breeds hate, they need to know that there is life outside. Over the years people brushed these kids off, calling them ‘little bastards’. These are kids as young as 11 years old, how are they even thinking criminal activities. Let’s look at the underlying issues here.”

To no one’s surprise, the Indigenous Affairs Minister ignored earlier reports of abuse. They didn’t “pique” his interest.

So now, the Northern Territory Minister has been fired; the “shocked” Prime Minister has called for a Royal Commission; and the guards in the video are still guarding the very children they were taped abusing.

Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Eric Garner. The new Gulag Archipelago, same as it ever was. We all share Australia’s shame. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.


(Image Credit: Fastcodesign) (Photo Credit: ABC Four Corners)

The time for concern is over. Shut Yarl’s Wood down today!

Last year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded a report on Yarl’s Wood: “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern … Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held … We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances.” Over the weekend, it was reported that the Home Office refused to reveal how many women have been raped or sexually assaulted because “disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests” of companies that run Yarl’s Wood. Serco runs Yarl’s Wood, and G4S provides Yarl’s Wood health services. Today, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women held in immigration detention, which would mean primarily Yarl’s Wood. This demand comes after months of the Home Office refusing to answer questions, refusing to acknowledge that questions and requests have been made. When it comes to women, the only thing that counts is corporate and State profit. Mass produced illegality is big business, generally. The big business of women’s illegality has been secured in black sites in our backyards. Across the suburban spectrum of so-called liberal representative democracies, women asylum seekers are being renditioned.

Yarl’s Wood is filled with pregnant women, women trauma survivors, lesbian women, African women, women torture survivors, women seeking help, and it is as it has always been, a special “hell on earth” designed to torture precisely those women. Ira Putilova, a Russian LGBTQ activist who sought asylum in England and was thrown into Yarl’s Wood, reflected on the case of Prossie N, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was deported to Uganda: “We came and left, but Yarl’s Wood stayed and we should do something with it. Help people inside. … Because borders and detention centres should disappear and all homophobes and racists should be sent to the moon! Fuck them! Free Prossie N!”

Borders and detentions centers must disappear. This is the inhuman geography of purchased security, in which the State acts as nothing more than the bouncer at the door of the global club of “commercial interests.” The time for “concern” is over. Yarl’s Wood is a black site in which women are being abused in an ever growing infinite of ways. It is an abomination, and it is being replicated everywhere. Tear it down … now. Shut Yarl’s Wood and its fraternal order of detention centers across the “free world” today.


(Photo Credit 1: The Establishment) (Photo Credit 2: BBC News)

Australia is NOT shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru

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.


(Photo Credit 1: Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru) (Photo Credit 2: New Matilda / Refugee Action Coalition)