Thousands of Australians called for the closure of the Manus and Nauru detention centres. Photo: Anadolu Agency
In a devastating breach of the privacy of women refugees, the Nauruan government has sent out a press release on Monday, detailing its investigation of a rape. The woman at the centre of the case is a young Somali woman who says she was raped and assulted in August this year and who told her story on ABC's 730 last week.
The press release, sent by Australian PR company Mercer PR and confirmed by a Mercer employee as authentic, casts doubts on the veracity of her claims. The press release, sent on behalf of the government of Nauru, published explicit details of her state of health, including a description of the woman's genitals. It made claims about the results of a spermatozoa test. The full Brief Fact from the Nauru Police Force's Domestic Violence Unit accompanied the press release, revealing the young woman's name and the details of her case.
The Brief closed with these words:
"It wouldn't happen to a woman in Australia, regardless of what her nationality was, it beggars belief. It's an appalling way to treat someone." Photo: Getty Images
"Case has been submitted to prosecutions for final recommendations. But with police investigator's recommendations case to be closed due to insufficient evidence found to prove alleged offence or Rape."
This disclosure puts at risk the lives of women. It will stop women from speaking out. And it will punish the victims and not the perpetrators.
Refugee advocates and advocates for women are horrified.
Pamela Curr, the detention and refugee rights advocate at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, says she has never seen anything like the epidemic of sexual assault on Nauru. She fears this kind of exposure will make it even harder for women to speak out, for fear of being shamed.
"If they speak out and say what happens to them, they will be outed," she said.
She says one Somali woman whose case was also made public was utterly humiliated in Somali media. What makes this even worse is the fact that no woman in Australia would be subject to this treatment. In Australia, rape cases are treated with the utmost caution by police and media; names are rarely published and only with the permission of rape victims.
"Why shouldn't these women get the same respect?" Curr asks. She answers the question herself: "There is no respect for these women."
She is dismissive of services on Nauru for victims of sex crimes – and says that the Nauruan police force is ill-equipped to properly undertake a thorough investigation of sexual assault.
Karen Willis, the executive officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, is similarly shocked.
"It wouldn't happen to a woman in Australia, regardless of what her nationality was, it beggars belief," she says. "It's an appalling way to treat someone."
She has called on the federal government to live up to its rhetoric when the Prime Minister made his announcement of the package to stop violence against women.
"Malcolm Turnbull said Australia needs to be known as a place where we respect women . . . [these women] are under our care and protection. The Australian government should be coming out really quickly to condemn this," says Willis.
Part of the problem, of course, is that these women are lost souls. The Australian government, having shoved its responsibilities to asylum seekers offshore, now appears to have no interest in the welfare of these women. And the Nauruan government itself has exposed its values with the release on Monday of these demeaning documents.
And worst of all is the casual way in which the words of these women have been diminished. Rape is never easy to talk about – and those commentators who have used the word 'contested' to devalue the testimony of these women, to plant a seed of doubt, should be ashamed of themselves. Rape allegations are almost always contested. That doesn't make them false.
There are two groups of women on Nauru who are now at greatest risk – those who have been granted refugee status; and those who are detainees. The first group are at the mercy of the Nauruan government, which is propped up by the Australian taxpayer. The second group are the detainees who ought to be under the care and protection of the Australian government but are not.
There will be many more cases like this. Many more. And the release of these documents is just the latest shot in the war on women refugees.