The Nauru Files: An Overview
It is hard to believe that 15 years have passed since the Tampa rescued nearly 450 asylum seekers in distress at sea. The infamous tragedy, now commonly refered to as the Tampa 'affair', brought to light the gross prejudice and inhumanity with which policy sought to deal with asylum seekers.
The incident gave rise to wave of propagda that has saw terms such as 'boat people' and 'illegal refugees' embedded into Australia's cultural lexicon. But again the tides are turning. The fortuitous release Chasing Asylum and The Nauru Files just months apart is shedding new light of Australia's refugee crisis and our desperate need to act in a way that is befitting of an inclusive, humane, compassionate society.
'The Nauru Files are the largest set of leaked documents published from inside Australia's immigration detention system' - The Guardian
Leaked and published by both The Guardian and the ABC, the files reveal more than 2,000 incidents of child abuse, sexual assault and self-harm within the Australian-run Nauru detention centre. The publication of the files has been met with fierce denial and opposition from Australian policians, including rumours that the Australian Government tried to force the ABC to remove the files and cease commentary on their contents.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has gone so far as to insinuate that the survivors of these sexual assaults have made "false allegations in an attempt to get to Australia" as reported on The Conversation (below).
the guardian: the most comprehensive reporting and exploration of the nauru files
The Nauru files: why don’t we believe victims of sexual abuse?
The release of the “Nauru files” last week revealed more than 2,000 incidents of sexual assault, child abuse and self-harm of asylum seekers, and documented the appalling living conditions for those held in offshore detention on Nauru.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton dismissed many of the files, including those documenting sexual assault, as “false allegations in an attempt to get to Australia”.
Dutton’s comments reinforce historically ingrained ideas about sexual assault victims as being “unreliable” or “untrustworthy”. His claims contribute towards a broader discourse that enables the dismissal, denial, and distrust of women and children who have experienced sexual violence.
The ‘unreliable’ victim of sexual assault
There is a long and problematic history of victim/survivors of sexual assault being constructed as “untrustworthy”. This is perhaps most infamously encapsulated in Sir Matthew Hale’s 17th-century remark that:
Rape is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved,
and harder yet to be defended by the party accused, tho’ never so innocent.
Hale’s comments had an enduring effect on the treatment of sexual assault victims.
The notion that victims of sexual assault were inherently unreliable or prone to lying was enshrined in law through the requirement for corroboration until relatively recently. Corroboration – that is, the independent verification of the victim’s testimony – reinforced the notion that victims of sexual assault could not be trusted.
The influence of these historical constructions is apparent in contemporary examples. Recent research from VicHealth shows a large minority of Victorians believe women make false claims of rape, or that women say they were raped after having “regretted” sex.
Likewise, public discussion on high-profile sexual assault cases readily turn to speculation about the victim’s “motives” for coming forward. Women are often dismissed as having an ulterior motive; they are seen as “attention-seekers” or “gold-diggers”. This perpetuates the idea that only certain classes or categories of victim warrant our belief or trust.
Victims who experience mental health issues or trauma are particularly likely to be dismissed. Their claims of sexual assault are explained as a manifestation of their illness. This is particularly problematic for asylum seekers, many of whom experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other trauma, both as a result of what they have experienced in their country of origin and in offshore detention.