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Bodies that matter. Bodies that don’t.

Image from noplaceforsheep.comIt’s profoundly concerning that Abyan, the Somali refugee currently living on Nauru and victim of a rape that left her pregnant, was forbidden to see her lawyer and denied adequate counselling for her trauma and her plight.

But now we hear that Rupert Murdoch’s minion Chris Kenny of The Australian was not only the first journalist in eighteen months to be granted a visa to enter Nauru in the last few days, he was also escorted by local police to Abyan’s accommodation, where he confronted her about her situation.

Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs has been denied a visa to visit Nauru, so Kenny is indeed privileged.

Kenny’s first account of his interview with Abyan, which you can access by clicking the link on Kenny’s tweet in The Guardian report above, seems to contradict Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s claims that Abyan refused an abortion and was therefore returned to the island, and instead substantiates her own claims that she did not refuse an abortion, she asked for some time, and appropriate help. Neither the time nor the appropriate help was forthcoming, and she was deported after being refused contact with her lawyer.

The likelihood of us ever knowing the truth of the situation is slim, however, no matter how you look at it, Abyan has been treated in a most despicable manner by both governments, and their agents.

Dutton has belatedly diarised appointments allegedly made for Abyan, with and without interpreters. However, there is no way at all of verifying Dutton’s claims that these appointments were in fact made, and that Abyan was offered the medical attention he claims.

I have no idea why Abyan was then subjected to further traumatisation by having to endure Chris Kenny’s pursuit of her after she was returned to Nauru. But everywhere I look in this situation I see an extremely vulnerable young woman, stripped of all power and agency, subjected to the interrogation and control of powerful men intent on furthering their own interests. The demonstration of male power & dominance over women that the Abyan story illustrates makes my blood run cold.

In his latest report from Nauru, Kenny stresses that Abyan has not reported her rape to the Nauruan police. The implication is clear: if she didn’t report it, perhaps it didn’t happen.

There are a staggering number of sexual assaults in this developed country that go unreported. The majority of rapes that are reported don’t make it into court. Reporting sexual assault to police is a harrowing experience, even when the police concerned are highly trained and care about you, and share your language group. I had a sexual assault counsellor with me when I did it a few months ago, as well as evidence, and a great deal of loving support. With all that, it was an horrific experience from which I still haven’t recovered. Reporting sexual assault if you are a young, pregnant Somali refugee woman condemned to life on Nauru for the indefinite future, must be an almost impossibly daunting prospect.

And then there is Abyan’s history, including rape and genital mutilation in her home country.

And let’s not forget that Dutton only agreed to offer Abyan an abortion in the first place because public agitation forced him to.

There is a recent pattern of unrelenting traumatisation of Abyan by men who have descended on her, for one reason or another, like vultures on a wounded animal. Most of them are white and middle class. Their actions are validated by an entirely brutal government policy that condemned Abyan to Nauru in the first place, a policy initiated by Julia Gillard and Nicolo Roxon. I wonder what these two women now think of where their policy has led us, or if they consider it at all.

An aside: a link to an interview with Nancy Fraser, Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School on why the “leaning in” brand of feminism actually means leaning on other women. Quote:

For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies.

Yes. Indeed.

In an uneasy corollary with Abyan’s situation Nauru is a subordinate state (read feminised) dominated by and dependent on Australia. Australia sends women and children it does not want to Nauru, where they are raped and abused. Australia, however, claims this is none of our business as Nauru is a sovereign state and we cannot intervene in its legal system, or what passes for a legal system in that lawless nation.

White, privileged, and apparently having suffered nothing more traumatic than being the butt (sorry) of a Chaser’s joke concerning sex with a dog, Chris Kenny feels he is entitled to pursue and interrogate the traumatised Somali refugee because, well, he is white, male, privileged, and works for Rupert Murdoch. He has no expertise in the matter of trauma and sexual trauma. If he had the slightest idea, and any compassion, he would not have subjected Abyan to his inquiries, and he certainly wouldn’t have arrived at her home with a police escort.

The bodies that matter are firstly, white. Then they are male. Then they are the bodies of women of calibre. They are bodies that belong to our tribe. I think, almost every day, what would the man who sexually assaulted me do if his daughter had been treated as he treated me? He observed more than once that I was “not of his tribe,” a comment I found ridiculous at the time, but with hindsight I see that his perception of me as other allowed him to behave towards me as if I was less vulnerable, less hurtable than women who were “of his tribe.”

Multiply this a million times when the victim is a Somali refugee abandoned by Australia to fend for herself in Nauru, and it isn’t hard to understand why there were difficulties reporting the rape.

The headline “Rape Refugee” says it all. Written on the body. Written on the body that does not matter, by the body that does.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.



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  1. Bronte ALLAN

    I hope this right wing “quasi journalist” Liberal “excuser” is dealt with by the authorities that matter in the media! How would he or any of his Liberal mates feel if their wives, daughters or female relatives were raped? Australia is rapidly making itself the “bully-boy” of refugee treatment, & the general public have very little say in this matter. It is just making the rest of the free world look at Australia in a very bad light.

  2. Kaye Lee


    I am sorry for what you endured. A few times I went and saw a couple of Aboriginal women as spiritual advisers. They were amazing (and I’m not into that stuff). One thing they said has always helped me – every experience in life, be it good or bad, teaches you things.

    Those of us lucky enough to have the love and support of family and friends can get through things we never thought it possible to endure. For Abyan, I cannot imagine the fear and suffering and doubt. That our government has ignored her plight, abandoned her, and returned her to her tormenters, is unconscionable. We are responsible for putting her in that situation in the first place. I despair for those who think “stop the boats” is a solution for anything at all.

  3. woywoybaz

    genuine journalists and even human rights commissioners are banned from Nauru but a far right wing shock jock like Kenny is allowed in. Why? Will Ray Hadley be next?

  4. Kaye Lee

    As for Chris Kenny, I will leave it to his son to explain….

    “Chris Kenny is my dad. On one of the Sky News political analysis programs he hosts, he has replied to the Chaser joke, lamenting that if his children were ever to Google his name in the future, this is the kind of filth we would stumble across.

    Heaven forbid.

    Kenny is a staunchly neo-conservative, anti-progress, anti-worker defender of the status quo. He is an unrelenting apologist for the Liberal Party. He was one of Alexander Downer’s senior advisers at the time of the Iraq War. He’s been known to argue for stubborn, sightless inaction on climate change. He spits at anyone concerned with such trivialities as gender equality, environmental issues or labour rights from his Twitter account on a daily basis. Recently, he characterised criticism of the lack of women in Tony Abbott’s Cabinet as a continuation of the Left’s “gender wars”. He is a regular and fervent participant in The Australian’s numerous ongoing bully campaigns against those who question its editorial practices and ideological biases. The profoundly irresponsible, dishonest, hate-filled anti-multiculturalist Andrew Bolt has recently referred to Kenny on his blog as “a friend”.

    And it’s a jokey picture of a bestial embrace that I should be afraid of discovering online?”

    In Defence Of The Chaser’s False Depiction Of My Dad Having Sex With Dog

  5. Roswell

    Is it just me, or is the system really broken?

  6. corvus boreus

    I do not think Chris Kenny is the one who should be facing the most serious questions regarding the latest twist to this whole travesty. He was just performing his role as a ‘journalist’ in a media business. It is his paid role to wheedle and haggle to gain (EXCLUSIVE) access to topical subjects, then portray them (EXCLUSIVE) in a manner to suit the agenda of his benefactor.

    To me, the first question is; ‘exactly who granted authoritative access to a ‘professional journalist’ to the alleged victim of both a serious sex-crime and subsequent legal injustices, especially when she has been denied access to both legal representation and trauma counseling?’.

    The second question is; ‘exactly what were the negotiatory processes undergone and conditions attached for this exclusive journalistic access?’.

    Abyan, a young woman who has suffered as we cannot imagine (google Somalia; I guarantee you won’t want to visit) needs access to proper medical facilities, qualified counseling, legal representation and monitoring by credible independent authorities, not the attentions of some sledging hack working for a slime sheet with a history of printed falsehoods for crooked agendas.

  7. Jaq

    I am just speechless. This country has taken such a step back into the abyss, it makes me feel ill.

  8. Florence nee Fedup

    Dutton’s diarise account shows that the woman didn’t get appropriate medical attention.

    According to Dutton, she was seen mainly by mental health nurse, assisted by a primary care nurse. neither skilled in Trauma, rape counselling or terminations.

    if dealing with this woman in a community setting, one would be organising a team. A trauma worker, one who counsel those seeking termination and one who works with rape victims.

    Personally I would be looking at including a psychologist if not psychiatrist.

    Any medical examination would need to be done by someone who has some experience in dealing with emotionally stressed people. No explanation has been given why she was found unconscious in her bed resulting in two days hospital stay to stabilize her.

    We have no idea the effect the travel from Nauru to Sydney, then further trip to Sydney. She said she was ill. Too ill to make decisions. One can understand that being so.

    Why she was unconscious is a worry. Was it because her health had deteriorated, We don’t know.

    I suspect any worker, as matter of procedure would have got her refusal in writing. I know in such a case, I would have.

    IMHO do to her poor english, under stress they have misunderstood, her request for more time. Maybe some official used this as excuse to move her. I am being kind when I say that. More likely her reply was deliberately misconstrued.

    Seen much of this type questioning lately at TURC. They are experts at misconstruing everything that is said. Putting their own interpretation on alleged evidence and words uttered. Seems to be norm for this government.

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    Marles being question on other rape fiasco on Lateline. Answers not satisfactory, Time for Labor to stop playing low key and come out and defend woman, not government. Don’t like his reply whatever.

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    Follow up Marles Lateline interview. ABC

  11. paul walter

    “Bodies that don’t matter”

    That rings bells straightaway as to why this whole saga is so repulsive. I think this thead starter is very much about identifying a particularly savage pathology somehow inflamed in some sections of society and I think she is spot on in identifying the element of extreme and out of control patriarchy along withthe racism also identified, involved with the fascism.

    It points to a really long haul in front of civilisation as to the eventual rendering down of such cultural phenomena and I for one can’t begin to suggest where things will start for such a process. if anything the traits seem very much reinforced over this century and the process is speeding up via dumbed down tabloid media and gutted tertiary education that could other wise identify and damp down something some people don’t want to see damped down.

    Where can Australia and civilisation in general go from here?

  12. paul walter

    Marles is one these typically bland people who have survived the selection criteria for preselection to a big party.

  13. randalstella

    Where are the Labor promoters at times like this? Exercising their right to be silent.
    If Labor had a decent policy on this, and not an indecent one, they would not need to be the wishy-washy Opposition with nothing much to complain about when gross human rights violations occur. What degree of depravity will they not acquiesce to?
    Unless the one major Party who could have a progressive policy on refugees does change its approach and stops trying to appease right-wing pathology, the Libs will keep dragging the issue up and they will have to keep conceding to them, and seeming weak.
    Labor have to change, because the refugee problem is not going to go away for many years.
    How many more rapes and murders will it take?
    Labor are so badly placed now that they are actually relieved by the censorship and suppression run by the Lib gangsters, as it means they avoid more incidents coming to light – that would leave them frozen for a substantial response.

  14. Blinky Ewok

    Into the abyss we go.

  15. pilgrim

    Jennifer, your article is a searing analysis of what has been done to this woman and a dreadful indictment f the calibre of our government and opposition’s failure to act to protect basic human rights.
    The total absence of compassion is the inevitable outcome of policies endorsed by both parties.

  16. mars08

    The total absence of compassion is the inevitable outcome of… a frightened and ignorant public being pampered by lazy, amoral, opportunistic politicians.

  17. Terry2

    Chris Kenny can hardly be called an impartial journalist and I’ve no doubt that his reporting on Nauru will be glowing : just like camping out on a tropical island as opposed to ‘I’m a journalist, get me out of here’.

    Other more incisive and independent journalists are caught in a cleft stick – the Nauruan government charge $8000 for a visa and even if they deny the visa, they keep the money.

  18. Matthew Oborne

    Borders give governments the freedom to take ours. This policy has devolved to the inevitable situation where abuse rape murder and avoidable deaths became the norm. Pandering to racists always costs human life.

  19. The Edible Yeti

    How ironic – Chris Kenny is probably the one person that actually DESERVES to be sent to suffer on Nauru.

  20. Terry2

    Prof. Gillian Triggs was refused access to the Nauru Detention Centre in her capacity as Human Rights Commissioner

    The rationale for this – and Peter Dutton is still giggling about this – was that Nauru is a sovereign country, they are running the detention centre thus we have no jurisdiction, no responsibility and the Australian Human Rights Commissioner has no right of access.

    We learned this legal fakery from our good allies the US who turned a leased naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba into an offshore prison beyond the reach of US laws and democratic accountability.

    And these people see Australia as a suitable candidate to be elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

    Shame on you,Australia !

  21. Jennifer Wilson

    Thank you, Kaye Lee and thank you to everyone who expresses their distress and anger at this story

  22. donwreford

    The present Liberal government professes to be for rights of the individual, here you see what the Liberals are about? the abortion and what really happened we know not, its the secrecy of this government that you cannot trust.

  23. Ricardo29

    This story makes my blood boil. I am (shock as I realise it) an elderly white male of the type — though not the disposition — of those who are perpetrating this abuse and it disgusts me. It disgusts me that our country’s leadership feels able to act like this, secure in the knowledge it apparently has majority public support. I am disgusted that Labor is unable to take up a fight against these horrible policies, probably for fear of being labelled hypocritical. My advice to them is cop the allegation sweet, say we no longer support these racist policies and set about actively and forcefully arguing the case for a fair deal for these refugees, including onshore processing, and all the help they need to move into the community. The winds of change are coming and it should now be Labor who rides them. As for the woman, no karma is bad enough for those responsible for her situation.

  24. diannaart


    I do believe system is not just broken but beyond repair when a journalist from Murdoch’s gutter press is given entry denied to Human Rights Commissioner – WTF?

  25. David

    @diannaart…sooooo damn true. Adding to the mix of this broken govt, the imitation stage actor Turnbull is so in debt to the hard right thugs in his so called Liberal Party, they are running amok. One only has to observe Hunt, Morrison, Bishop, Cash, Dutton, Freydenberg, performing like unsupervised kids with new toys on Christmas morning.
    Our of the frying pan into the fire seems has a terrifying ring to it and adding to the horror, the ALP seem to be relying on being partners not the Opposition, to gain favour with the electorate

  26. paul walter

    Dr Wilson thanks those folk who have commented, but it should be no surprise that if she is upset at what goes on and its implications that others wouldn’t recognise these things also, eventually. The system loves to isolate and atomise the people, to keep the churn going lest the more perceptive among us have time to see things as they are.

    Jennifer, that you speak out as a literate commentator, also releives our grief. We also need to know we are not alone and also the folk behind real rather than cognitive barbed wire, if they ever accidentally discover that others are aware of their plight and understand the injustice involved.

  27. Nikola Leka

    I think Paul Walter’s comment above, is the task of our time- “It points to a really long haul in front of civilisation as to the eventual rendering down of such cultural phenomena”

  28. Backyard Bob

    Abyan is an “alleged” rape victim, not a rape victim, no matter what your moral view. Can we please respect the law and its reasoned protocols.

    We can do that whilst maintaining our rightful rage about her treatment and detention in general.

  29. paul walter

    And you leave an “alleged” rape victim banged up in a detention camp (deliberately?), left with those who likely raped her, without adequate medical or psychological care, Backward Bob?

    Not even allowed to talk to her lawyers, at a place media is barred from and she is subtly and remorselessly pressured by those who want her shut up?

    You don’t see the law employed to pervert justice and protect the guilty here? Not even the ghost of a chance?

    I’ve read some silly comments at blogsites, but yours takes the cake. Go back to Alabama and put your white sheet over your head again.

  30. Florence nee Fedup

    Even alleged victims have right be treated with respect; Right to justice.

  31. Michael Taylor

    Backyard Bob, you left out a question mark at the end of your second sentence. Given that on another thread you were quick to be critical of the author’s literary skills, I just thought I’d point that out to you.

    Perhaps you’d like to take advantage of our edit feature once a comment is posted. It gives you five minutes to review and edit your comment.

    Maybe you need more than five minutes.

  32. Michael Taylor

    Actually, how can a person be an ‘alleged’ victim?

    Did you notice, by the way, that I used single inverted commas? You used double inverted commas. Could you please refer to the latest Australian Style Manual? Double inverted commas are no longer used unless they are a used as a quotation within a quotation.

  33. Adrianne Haddow

    Our minister for non-immigration has stated that the media coverage of Abyan’s ‘alleged’ rape is unhelpful.
    You bet it is, for the government.

    If that is the case, why was Chris Kenny given access to her. Isn’t he part of the media? Or is it only the ‘rascally rabbit’ independent and social media that are the problem.

    The hypocrisy of this bland face, kewpie doll of a minister is astounding. Given the secrecy surrounding Abyan’s treatment at the hands of her gaolers, the liarberal government, it is abhorrent that one of Murdoch’s hacks was sent to interrogate her, with the permission of this master of the asylum seekers.

    So I guess it’s OK to allow Murdoch reporters into Nauru if the report fits with the government’s version of the events.

    Will he be subject to the same laws that gag doctors,psychiatrists, security staff and teachers ( the people who actually work with, and build relationships with the detainees) from speaking out about the asylum seekers ?
    If not, why not?

  34. Kyran

    Indeed, Ms Haddow, mutton’s arrogant, incompetent stupidity knows no bounds. The article on ABC’s website quotes this incompetent git as saying;
    “I don’t think it’s helpful for to us continue to talk about what is a very private matter, a matter of grave personal importance, a decision that should be made and a discussion that should be had between a patient and a doctor.”
    This incompetent git forgot to mention that Nauru, with a population of 10,000, has two medical facilities primarily geared to the treatment of obesity and related medical conditions. It seems Nauru has an obesity level effecting in excess of 70% of its population, the highest level on the planet. Abortion is illegal in the lawless rogue state. There are no adequate medical facilities on Nauru for ‘Abyan’. The plight of ‘Nazanin’ and her distraught family is equally barbaric and obscene.
    In the likely event my literary skill’s are inadequate, quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
    Thank you Ms Wilson. Take care

  35. Backyard Bob

    Michael Taylor,

    If you disagreed with my point why not just say so? Why the patronising tone? I don’t necessarily expect anyone to agree with me. Oh, and as for my question – it was rhetorical. Rhetorical questions do not require a question mark. It’s sort of how the reader identifies them as rhetorical.

    Your point about inverted commas was a touch silly, given such things are matters of “style”.

  36. Florence nee Fedup

    Would one expect to see debate on this matter not being unhelpful to Dutton. Interferes with his belief he should have the privacy to do whatever he likes.

  37. Backyard Bob

    Sadly I think Dutton has been granted the power to do more or less whatever he likes. The ability to dump innocent people on island prisons that are lawless backwaters not safe for human habitation, and treat those people as political pawns at one’s whim is the sort of thing that can go to a person’s head. Even sadder that nothing has changed since the Canonisation of Saint Malcolm.

  38. Florence nee Fedup

    I can remember many years ago, as part of my job, having the honour of sitting in a group of refugees from South America, who had suffered greatly under a dictatorship. The experience left one humbled.

    The group consisted of highly educated professional people, who were so traumatised, they had trouble putting a few words together. No way capable of even making day to day decisions.

    I often wonder where they are at today.

    I can’t but help, there are many on Manus and Nauru who are in same place.

    Not all show it on the outside. This I know with people I worked with from Asia, fleeing such places as Cambodia. Workmates who could laught, make one comfortable. One in particular story was compelling. A teacher in the country, father six kids, Fled to the jungle. Lost all. Life still had one more sting in the tail for him. Had a child in this country, to honour freedom. That baby was a downs syndrome baby. This man and his wife managed to remain positive.

    I am just saying, we have no right to judge this woman. We have no idea what she has endured. We have no idea where she is at. What we do know, the torture still continues today.

    In fact I extend that to all in her position. That includes Kenny’s insulting story about parents that condoe their children not attending school in his paper.

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