The Nauru rapes

The first reports were about the guards themselves. They were allowing asylum seekers longer showers if they could watch them naked. Some were trading cigarettes for sexual favours.

Credible reports followed of children being sexually assaulted in the detention camp on Nauru. Subsequent files would show at least seven children had been abused. One report detailed behaviours consistent with trauma: a child under the age of 10 who took off her clothes and invited adults to assault her.

Six years ago, this newspaper ran a front page with an image of a smiling woman named Nazanin. At the time she lay in hospital, catatonic. She hadn’t eaten for two weeks. Nazanin had been raped and beaten outside the camp on Nauru. Her brother said, “Mentally she is destroyed.”

The piece described other assaults on Nauru. One woman was dragged into bushes and raped by two or three men. They doused her in petrol and set her alight. Photographs showed her breasts blackened and skin peeling. The woman was brought to Australia for a pregnancy termination, where she attempted suicide. She was then sent back to Nauru, back to the place Australia had built where this had happened.

Two other women described being picked up in cars by local men and raped. “I tried to beg him but that was impossible,” one said. “What he want he got it from me.” Others spoke of “The 50 dollar man” – a person who was known outside the camps to rape women, and then drop a $50 note on them. A source told Martin McKenzie-Murray, “There is a war on women there.”

Local police were indifferent. There were no charges made in any of these cases. Australian laws meant crimes that required mandatory reporting here could lead to prison time for aid workers who reported them there. Nauru had been made an abuse black site.

Through much of this time, Peter Dutton was the minister responsible. In 2016, the Federal Court found he had breached his duty of care to a woman who was raped on Nauru and who required a termination. The woman had been unconscious during the attack, which occurred after a seizure.

In 2019, Dutton said some of these women were “trying it on”. Speaking on Sky News, he said, “Let’s be serious about this. There are people who have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion because they couldn’t get an abortion on Nauru. They arrived in Australia and then decided they were not going to have an abortion. They have the baby here and the moment they step off the plane their lawyers lodge papers in the Federal Court which injuncts us from sending them back.”

This week Peter Dutton won a defamation case in the Federal Court. He was awarded $35,000 after suing a refugee advocate who had called him a “rape apologist”. The court found his reputation had been damaged.

National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 27, 2021 as "The Nauru rapes".

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