12 January 2021: Former female detainees at Ashley Youth Detention Centre allege sexual abuse

Following the announcement by Tasmanian Premier, Peter Gutwein, in September 2021, that Ashley Youth Detention Centre (AYDC) will close within 3 years, media attention regarding the treatment of detainees in AYDC has intensified. The current facility is located in the small regional town of Deloraine on Tasmania’s North-West Coast. The government announced that this facility will be replaced with two new detention centres located in the North and South of Tasmania.

Coinciding with the Premier’s announcement, in November 2021, the Commission of Inquiry officially commenced their investigations into child sexual abuse in Tasmanian institutions. Therefore, shining more light on the failure of the State of Tasmania to protect children detained in AYDC.

Angela Sdrinis Legal acts for almost 200 former detainees of AYDC who allege they were sexually, physically, and psychologically abused while detained in AYDC. Over 100 of these clients are participating in the AYDC Class Action being prepared by Angela Sdrinis Legal.  However, this group of more than 100 clients includes only a small group of women.

Tasmania’s largest newspaper, The Mercury covered the experience of two of our female clients, highlighting the unique struggles of female detainees housed in AYDC. The two women anonymously disclosed the horrific details of their experiences at AYDC. Both were sexually and physically abused in AYDC, and report that they were specifically targeted because of their gender. Both women explained that girls detained in AYDC were left especially vulnerable in the male dominated environment and were subjected to sexist and abusive behaviours from male guards and inmates.

Our clients report they were deprived of access to sanitary products, denied suitable underwear, given smaller meals, watched by male guards whilst showering, and kept in isolation from the larger group of detainees. In some cases, our female clients report they were forced to undergo invasive strip searches whilst completely naked, which at times involved internal cavity searches, and was often carried out by multiple male guards at a time. Some women report avoiding therapeutic and educational opportunities in AYDC due to previous instances of abuse, and fear of further abuse.

These former inmates were promised their complaints would be handled "internally" within AYDC, but none report being offered meaningful outcomes. In one particular case, a detainee complained in writing to the Ombudsman after being sexually abused by a male guard. After a brief investigation and a period of forced leave, her perpetrator was able to return to work. The same client reports that despite being a victim of abuse, she was threatened and bullied as a result of her complaint.

In preparing the AYDC Class Action, it has become evident that female clients are heavily underrepresented within the wider group of clients involved. Of the 100 clients participating, only 5 are female. Although fewer girls were and are detained in AYDC overall, the percentage of women who have come forward as survivors is disproportionately small. It is hoped that the media article, and the courage shown by the 2 women who told their stories, will encourage more women to come forward and seek compensation for the abuses they suffered in an institution.

By Annabelle Ward 

Law Institute Victoria Accredited Personal Injury Specialists

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