A sickening reality that we cannot turn away from

VicSRC Executive, David Trevorrow, responds to the abuse of children and young people in the Northern Territory's Don Dale youth detention centre.

Don Dale

A picture is confronting.

As I stood in the doorway to my lounge room on Monday night, learning of sickening cruelty visited upon kids in detention facilities, I was stunned, unable to move, scarcely comprehending what I was seeing on the TV screen, happening in 21st Century Australia.

When the report finished, there was not a dry eye in our home.

I think, most of all, I felt hopeless, powerless, like nothing I or anyone else could say or do could fix this. I felt helpless because it had already happened, had already been reported on and yet was still happening. I was angry, shocked, appalled, and confused. It defied logic, and understanding of what I thought it meant to be Australian.

I looked at my brother, age 14, realising that the kids being kept in solitary confinement for weeks, being stripped naked by prison guards, being treated as less than animals, were his age – and younger. For all intents and purposes, they could have been him, or me.

Nothing I or anyone else writes can fully express the horror and disgust the Four Corners footage evokes. It’s scarcely believable until you see it. If I hadn’t have seen the footage first hand, I could not have understood the depths of the pain. Until you hear the laughter of the guards, you cannot truly comprehend how wrong and broken the system is.

We are not all politicians and lawyers. We don’t all have the power to change this culture and stop these abuses. I’m just a kid in high school, living in western Melbourne. What we can all do, and what I want all of you to do, is just watch the Four Corners report.

It's horrific to see but I think it's important that we do not turn away; that we stop our homework and Snapchatting for a moment and watch.

Perhaps by doing so we can find our empathy and our voices.

By being witness to such revolting treatment, we are able to understand.

If you do nothing else, just watch the report.

It’s not reality television, it’s a sickening reality that we cannot turn away from. It’s happening in Australia, to kids my age and far younger.

We cannot let ourselves shy from an ethical responsibility.

We need to take a hard look at ourselves. Go beyond the raw emotional response. Look past scapegoating and politics. We cannot blame the victims, the kids.

Instead we need to ask ourselves what we have come to justify as a society. We need to see how this goes beyond the shocking footage and see that as a symptom of abuses far more widespread. Are we a society that sees young people as a menace – a nuisance – or as equal citizens? 

Our Government and our society has a duty to all kids, to protect them and to let them grow.

It doesn’t matter what these children have done to be in detention. It doesn’t matter how much of a menace they might be. No one, especially not a kid, deserves to be treated so appallingly and no one has the right to say they deserve it.

Of all lawbreakers, juvenile offenders have the greatest chance of rehabilitation and are the most vulnerable.

The VicSRC would like to join the calls for the Royal Commission to be expanded to all youth in detention under Australia’s care. Our Government would like to confine the Royal Commission, and in doing so is trying to suggest this is an isolated issue. We know horrific abuse is happening in the Northern Territory, and yes, we need to know how to stop that; but we also need a Royal Commission to tell us where else it might be happening. This is a systemic problem. We need to be a voice for all children in detention, especially for those kept caged far from cameras. 

A Royal Commission, in any form, is an essential first step. But it cannot be the only step. A Royal Commission must lead to justice for those boys, it must lead to legislation, and it must lead to change. An empty commission may make us feel better about ourselves and our Government but for our fellow kids in what are, let’s face it, prisons, around Australia, it will be nothing more than words on paper unless is leads to action.

Youth in detention, especially Indigenous children in detention, is a complex issue, with many, many related problems and causes. It might never be satisfactorily resolved, but hopefully one thing is clear to all Australians, and all Australian youth: no matter how or why someone ends up in juvenile detention, they should not be keep in solitary confinement, they should not be shackled and restrained and they should be treated like human beings – children – not animals.

If my 14-year-old brother can get that, then so can all of you.

David Trevorrow, Braybrook College
VicSRC Executive 2016-2016

Link to Australia's Shame - Four Corners report, July 2016

Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:

States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;

(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;

(d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

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