The true cost of our brutal detention policy is the lives of young women.

A young woman was waiting for a bus at sunset when a car pulled up next to her. The male driver warned her about wild dogs and offered her a lift. She took it because she was terrified of being mauled, but instead of taking her home, the man took her to a house and raped her.

“I went inside. Dogs came in too. Man took off all his clothes and showed me his private parts. I wet my pants and soiled my pants,” the woman, a refugee known as Amina*, later recalled.

“This is the reason I left my country – this fear of rape – I see it happen to many. Then he said I don’t care and hit my face very hard. He said dogs will kill you if you don’t suck my private part. Then I have no choice.”

No matter how hard our government may try and hide it, we know the situation for the refugees and people seeking asylum we send offshore is dire. For the unaccompanied women like Amina who are banished to Nauru, many of whom have fled sexual violence in their own countries, it’s nothing short of horrific.

According to advocates, wild dogs roam the island in packs, which is terrifying enough, but the worst threat comes from the men who know where these vulnerable women live (in demountable housing scattered throughout the bush) and pick them off one by one.

On Nauru, women aren't safe in or out of detention.

A new report, Protection Denied: Abuse Condoned, from Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru documents Australia's deliberate policy of sending women to a place we know is unsafe, but where no-one is held accountable if they are brutalised; the Pacific island of Nauru.

Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru  is a group comprising journalists, researchers, advocates and lawyers including former WA Labor premier Carmen Lawrence.


Theirs is the first report to bring together everything we know about Nauru and the suffering of the women we've left there.

It's aim is twofold: to expose our abuse to the global community and to call for it to finally be brought to an end.

It begins with the story of "Mary", a 24-year-old woman who was found traumatised, bruised and covered in bite marks after being brutally sexually assaulted while she was visiting a friend in the Nauru community in May 2015.

Instead of being taken to hospital, she was taken to the police station and was pressed for a statement. She was mute with trauma. So the police labelled her as "non-compliant".

Eva Orner's film Chasing Asylum is a must-see for all Australians (post continues after video):

Then there was "Abyan". The young Somali woman who was raped and she fell pregnant. For months she pleaded for an abortion but instead of receiving proper care, she was flown to and from Australia, at the centre of an obscene tug-of-war between advocates and the Australian government.

In March, another young African woman, known only as "S99" was raped while she was having an epileptic seizure. She too asked for a termination, but was sent to Papua New Guinea where abortion is illegal, except to preserve the life of the mother.


These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. The majority of crimes against women on Nauru, even those which happen inside the detention facility, go unreported. All go unpunished.

"It’s a terrible thing to happen to any woman. For these girls particularly coming from their culture where they've set to me is 'the last thing I have is my good name' and that’s why it stayed a secret until the girls became pregnant and desperately need help and that’s how it’s come out," co-author of the report and refugee advocate Pamela Curr told Mamamia.

"People might ask why it’s taken so long for this to come out but when we think about it, no woman wants to go public about being raped."

As Curr points out, even in cases where official reports have been made, not one Nauruan has ever been charged or investigated for an assault against a non-Nauruan, including these women.

"This is the true cost of Australia’s brutal policy: young women whose lives have been torn to pieces," Julie Macken, a former journalist who also authored sections of the report, said.

"Most Australian women know what it would feel like to be treated as prey, to be humiliated to not be able to protect their kids from violent attacks. Maybe not first hand, but we know mums, aunts, sisters who’ve been in that situation.

"Are we still comfortable about this brutal policy given that it’s other women paying the cost?"

You can read the report in full here.

*Not her real name.