Sarah Hanson-Young: 'Women and children are being abused by guards employed by the Australian government.'

Sarah Hanson-Young writes exclusively for Mamamia.

When the sun goes down, tensions increase in the Australian run detention camp on Nauru. After the gates are locked and darkness settles over the camp, mothers hold their children a little closer and a little tighter.

They do that because they’re not safe and there’s nowhere left for them to run.

An ominous sense of danger hangs heavy over the family compound constantly but it’s during that most terrifying window of time, between dusk and day-break every night, in which their darkest fears are realised. Many women and children have said that they are too scared to use the toilets in the camp at night because that’s where the guards wait for them. After hearing some of the stories about what those guards do to the young women who are locked up on Nauru, I understand why.

Women and children on Nauru say they are too scared to use the toilet at night.

The guards who work in the Nauru camp, and are carrying out atrocious assaults against women and children, are employed by the Australian Government and paid for by the Australian tax payer.  This is being done in Australia’s name and that we will have to carry that burden for generations to come.

Built in the middle of a disused phosphate mine, the Nauru detention centre has been the focus of a long running Senate inquiry which has this week revealed a disturbing culture of abuse within the facility.

There were 30 official allegations of guards sexually assaulting children within the detention centre made throughout the inquiry. Women spoke about the culture of violence and sexual harassment that dominates the camp. Those same women are told ‘if you don’t like it, go home’. The problem is that they’re refugees and, for many of them, going home would mean death.

Read more about this here: Immigration Department aware of sexual abuse allegations against children for 17 months but failed to act, say former Nauru workers.

While water and shade are scarce in Australia’s offshore detention camps, systemic bullying and intimidation are in plentiful supply.


When I was in the Nauru camp, the guards did their best to intimidate me. They stood over me, with their six foot frames, while I talked to refugees in the family compound. They had me followed around the island and, it has recently been revealed, they had me spied on and possibly filmed in my hotel room.

When I went to the Manus Island camp in Papua New Guinea the guards physically grabbed me, pulled me from my car and tried to make me delete photos that I had taken on public land, outside of the detention camp.

If this is how they treat a Federal Senator from Australia, I shudder to think of what they do to the women and children who are sent there.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

The fact of the matter is that the Australian government is locking children up with guards who are assaulting them at a horrifying rate. The government continues to ignore all of this because, in Tony Abbott’s mind, these children are nothing more than collateral damage.

The Senate inquiry released its report on Monday. We now know what is happening in the Nauru camp and the government can no longer plead ignorance about what’s really going on there. To keep the detention centre open is unthinkable and it’s time to close this shameful chapter in Australia’s history, once and for all.

Just one of the horrific story from Nauru: She was raped, then denied medical treatment by Australian authorities.

Tonight, as the sun sets over Australia’s boundless plains, I’ll be thinking about the women and children who are locked up in the detention camp on Nauru.

I hope that there’s a brighter dawn on the horizon.

Sarah Hanson-Young is a Greens Senator South Australia.