Worried about refugees being raped on Nauru? Call Lifeline

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Sarah Smith at Malcolm Turnbull's house

Sarah Smith's extraordinary encounter with the Prime Minister's office heralds a new low when it comes to the plight of refugees being raped on Nauru. IA's managing editor David Donovan reports.

SO WHAT happens when you ring up the Prime Minister’s office and tell his staff you are deeply upset about refugees in detention on Naura being molested, strip-searched and raped?

Well, for one young lady, Sarah Smith, it led to her being told to call Lifeline.

Whether Lifeline were meant to be assisting her or the refugees on Nauru is still unclear.

The story came to light on Tuesday 19/1/16 when Ms Smith posted the following status update on Facebook:

'Malcolm Turnbull's office has stated they can't do anything further about my friends on Nauru who are getting molested, strip searched and raped. They suggested I call Lifeline to resolve my issues with this. Please make this go viral. Ask Lifeline how to deal with this. Use hashtag #‎asklifeline.'

This was soon posted to Twitter, causing widespread consternation...

and bewilderment...

Speaking exclusively to Independent Australia, Sarah Smith said she was shocked by the response from the Prime Minister’s staffer.

I explained, unemotionally, that women and children are being molested and raped without any room for recourse. She explained, with equal and appalling lack of emotion, that I should call Lifeline.

I explained that, “I'm fine. They aren't. I just want my friends to stop being sexually abused.”

Melissa replied that they couldn't help me.

She said she would not describe herself as an activist, but had recently become friends with some people in detention and heard about their suffering, which have produced a visceral physical reaction in her:

These are people who I video call with. People whose highs and lows I've shared, as they have shared mine. People who tell their native bedtime stories to my daughter, and whose family photos they have shared with me.

I'm watching these people being molested, raped and tortured.

And Malcolm Turnbull's staffer, Melissa, suggested I should call Lifeline. Because whenever someone is harmed, I vomit uncontrollably … [and] for some reason, they suggest this is unreasonable.

Sarah’s friend Lanz Priestley was sitting next to her when she spoke to Melissa in [the Prime Minister’s] communications division’. With Sarah’s phone turned up to full, Mr Priestley said both sides of this remarkable conversation were ‘clearly audible’. He vouched wholeheartedly for the veracity of Sarah’s account. 

Lanz Priestley told IA he was doubly 'stunned' by the response from the prime ministerial official:

I’m stunned that the Prime Minister’s office would choose to attempt to outsource resolution of the issues regarding Nauru to an NGO without the reach to respond.

In addition, I’m stunned at the lapse of professionalism from an office which should be well versed in issuing uncontroversial responses.

Sarah Smith’s phone call to the prime minister’s office was the culmination in a vain month-long personal campaign to get Prime Minister Turnbull to accept ‒ or even acknowledge ‒ evidence of the widespread abuses going on at Nauru Immigration Detention Centre.

Ms Smith explained:

On January 19, 2016, I rang Malcolm Turnbull’s office.

This was a follow up to numerous calls and emails and, with the lack of response to those, a visit to his house on Christmas Eve [24 December 2015] with a box containing multiple images of those in Immigration Detention who are being beaten and sexually abused, details of their abuse and a letter pleading for their safety.

I've lost 5 kilograms since that visit to Turnbull's house on Christmas Eve.

A rape survivor herself, Sarah says her efforts are to stop her friends from needing to go through what she has had to endure.

For over a week before that date [19 January 2016] I was informing Turnbull’s office that I was raped in early December.

I explained my increasing desperation to save my friends who were experiencing the same thing.

This is what drew me to the point of going to his house ... no response from Dutton or Turnbull for months on end prior to that.

Lifeline is, of course, a suicide prevention organisation. Sarah said she has never presented as suicidal or likely to self-harm, just bilious about the treatment of refugees in Australia’s care:

'I have presented as lucid, sane and non-suicidal in each of my calls. However, I did explain that as a rape survivor myself, seeing it happen to people I care about makes me vomit. Which seems more sane to me than not doing so.'

The Prime Minister has been contacted for comment, but no response has yet been received.

You can follow Dave on Twitter @davrosz.

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