Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre

In tomorrow’s papers, there will be a story about the sexual abuse of women at the Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. Where up until quite recently, children were also detained. We haven’t ended child detention, but we have rebranded it and there are new centres which have a better public image than this one. For a while Barnardos had the contract at Yarls Wood, make of that what you will.

Abuse is a word that is often used and little understood. For there to be abuse there has to be an imbalance of power. Power which can be abused. Staff who are not accountable, but are given power, can abuse at will. When that is combined with the systematic removal of power from those vulnerable to abuse, ie the removal of legal aid which would allow our justice system to provide redress, or demonisation from the government of the day, that is a charter for abuse. When those staff are the barrier between those people, and being returned to a country where they have already experienced abuse so severe they have sought asylum elsewhere, that charter is set in stone. When doors are locked on those people and those staff, you have fish in a barrel.

I want you to read this account, by a woman called Tanja. This account does not just demonstrate the sexual abuse of one woman. There are descriptions of places within the centre, which have become normalised venues for abuse,  the abuse was repeated and widespread. Younger women were always likely to be targeted in a society which sells the sexuality of adolescent girls as something men should want over all others. We know what happens when you don’t protect people, especially women and children, from abuse.

” Tanja told the Observer how younger women were preyed upon. “There was a lot of flirting. Within two or three days the officers start to come on to them, touching the younger ones..”

I want to be clear, There is no way on gods earth that women were targeted, and children were not. Don’t for one minute believe boys were exempt. Ask a social worker who has done age assessments about the views of the Border agency on what constitutes a child, and the pressure they were put under to treat children as adults, so those children do not get the protection of the Children Act 1989. You will hear horror stories. When contextualised with this story, those horror stories take on a new edge.

A case in the news years ago, ended with social services being rapped on the knuckles for failing to deal appropriately with sexualised behaviour from 5 year olds within Yarl’s Wood. Sexualised behaviour usually being an indicator that there has been sexual abuse.

It was always extraordinarily difficult to work with the Border Agency on issues of child protection, they were openly hostile to the idea that someone under their remit should be protected by the legislation a civilised country should offer all children. They were openly hostile to treating adolescents who have some of the appearance of adulthood, as children.

There is little to no way to enforce child protection responsibilities when dealing with this agency. In light of the revelations about what actually goes on there, this barrier between those charged with protecting children and those charged with protecting the Daily Mail agenda looks altogether more sinister.

Key to understanding this story, is understanding the role of companies like Serco. After a rant on twitter about this story, I was DM’d by a man who works for the Home Office, a public sector worker, who explained that actually many staff do try their best and are committed to working in the interests of those they are given power over, but massive caseloads and a lack of resources make it impossible. When a member of staff is a servant of the crown, there is always the possibility of accountability, When they are an employee of a company like Serco, there is none.

There are trade unions who work with the public sector workers in Yarls Wood, who are aware of the difficulties that are posed and working to try and address this, but this is a problem which happens behind doors that have been deliberately closed. Doors which guarantee that abuse will happen behind them, because largely the abuse of people in places like Yarls Wood pleases certain voters.

The Border Agency is no longer an executive agency and we have rebranded child detention. Now the politicians who set up these women and children to be sexually abused, need to explain themselves. And they need to explain why those seeking asylum, have been set up and put in centres where sexual abuse was inevitable, when their only crime is attempt escape from abuse by their own state.