Devastating cases of sexual and physical abuse of asylum seekers’ children as young as two have been laid bare by a former senior child protection worker at the Australian-run detention centre in an explosive submission to a Senate inquiry.Former Save the Children employee Viktoria Vibhakar has written an extensive submission to the ongoing Senate inquiry into allegations of abuse on Nauru, detailing allegations of sexual assaults on asylum seeker.At the heart of her allegations are a failure by the contracted service providers and the immigration department to respond adequately to protect vulnerable asylum seekers from violent and sexual assaults, despite a range of recommendations by carers and medical staff to mitigate risks.
While some of the allegations are consistent with other evidence that has come out of Nauru, these new cases of abuse represent the most devastating dossier yet of the mismanagement and neglect on the island.
“The government has known about the alleged sexual assault, exploitation and harassment of women and children in the Nauru RPC [regional processing centre] since at least November 2013,” she said.
A series of 30 separate case studies Vibhakar presented to the inquiry lay bare the gravity of the allegations and include documentary evidence in the form of emails and incident reports to support her claims, including:
A Save the Children manager requested that serious allegations of sexual assault of an adolescent asylum seeker in November 2013 be withheld from reporting to the Nauru police force. Text from an email included in the submission said: “I have told CP [child protection] they are NOT to contact the police and that any such action should be disc with you first. The family have not asked for this to happen but it is thought that if they understand the process, they may be more comfortable about taking such action or better prepare them if such action is taken. What are your thoughts?”
In a response from Save the Children, the company does not deny the allegation that it requested the assault not be reported. But it said the company had “worked very hard to fulfil its obligations to advocate for children and families” on the island.
The mother of the same asylum seeker was denied an opportunity to send a letter to then immigration minister Scott Morrison about the sexual assault through “formal channels” between the immigration department and Save the Children. The company said the letter from the asylum seeker’s mother was not prevented from being sent to Morrison by other means.
A four-year-old girl who began exhibiting behaviour consistent with a child who had been sexually assaulted, including sexualised dancing and pulling her pants down to invite adults to insert their finger into her anus. Despite child protection workers assessing her to be at “high risk of ongoing sexual abuse”, the submission said the immigration department did not remove her from detention.
An immigration department official said allowing an eight-year-old girl who alleged she was sexually assaulted to Skype her father on her birthday would “set a crazy precedent”. The girl was later permitted to Skype her father, but the immigration officer stressed it should be emphasised that the birthday was only coincidental. The girl later became suicidal, but she was only medically evacuated seven months after the initial allegations were raised.
Two male asylum seekers approached a five-year-old asylum seeker and one “moved his index finger in and out of his mouth” and pointed at the boy, according to an incident report filed at the centre.
Child asylum seekers were beaten at the Nauru school with a wooden ruler. Guardian Australia has verified independently that several child asylum seekers have been subject to corporal punishment at the school.
The investigations that occurred into child protection matters on the island were conducted by Wilson Security staff who were “not professional qualified or trained” to interview alleged victims of assaults and and sexual abuse and delayed investigations. Vibhakar said an incident report had been filed about a 10-year-old asylum seeker who was dragged forcibly from a school, but Wilson Security only interviewed the asylum seekers a month later.
A four-year-old asylum seeker was struck by a Wilson Security guard on the back of her head in a blow that “lifted her off her feet”, according to a Save the Children incident report.
A commonwealth employee brought a knife into the detention centre and made comments about “killing and eating cats and dogs”. Vibhakar said he “appeared mentally compromised”.
A Save the Children employee was terminated following a subsequent discovery of a failure to meet the obligations under the working with children check or criminal record check.
Vibhakar also said she raised concerns about the lack of child protection legislation on Nauru and the absence of working with children checks.
She also said the child protection policy created by Save the Children was only developed in May 2014 – and added that contractors employed before that date had not been required to sign the new policy.
“It is also noteworthy that a verbal policy regarding appropriate touch/boundaries between service providers and children was only communicated after January 2014 as a result of escalating concerns of inappropriate boundaries that were observed between commonwealth-contracted employees, children and young people.”
She concludes there is irrefutable evidence that the immigration department and the government has been aware of the growing body of allegations of serious assaults since at least November 2013, contrary to comments by the immigration minister, Peter Dutton.
“I believe that the information and evidence provided in this submission demonstrate that the government’s knowledge of assault allegations in the Nauru detention facility occurred well before ‘late 2014’ as minister Dutton has stated publicly.”
Save the Children responded to the submission and said it contained a number of assertions that “either factually incorrect or which require material clarification”.
It does not address why the child protection policy and code of conduct was not signed by earlier employees on the island.
Save the Children confirmed that the working with children check for one employee had been denied.
Wilson Security said in its submission that it was concerned about many of the allegations raised by Vibhakar – but at no point does it expressly object to Vibhakar’s characterisation of many of the serious allegations raised.
In numerous incidents, it adds that it holds no records relating to specific events referenced by Vibhakar.
The Senate inquiry is continuing to publish explosive submissions about sexual assault allegations at the detention centre, and the responses of the Australian companies involved.
On Thursday, it was also revealed in a submission that Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was placed under extensive surveillance while visiting the island.