NT royal commission finds girls in youth detention subjected to 'inappropriate sexualised behaviour'

NT royal commission finds girls in youth detention subjected to 'inappropriate sexualised behaviour'

NT royal commission finds girls in youth detention subjected to 'inappropriate sexualised behaviour'

Updated 21 November 2017, 9:50 AEDT

Female detainees at Don Dale had to shower in "unacceptable" facilities, struggled to access pads and tampons and had inappropriate, sexualised relationships with guards who abused their power, the royal commission finds.

Young women and girls in the Northern Territory's youth prisons were inappropriately touched by some male guards and received less access than male detainees to education and hygiene facilities, the royal commission has found.

A section of the report, released late last week, described the experiences of girls inside Darwin's Don Dale youth detention centre and Aranda House in Alice Springs.

The commissioners found the treatment of female detainees "did not meet [the] standards" applied for their male counterparts.

"These girls and young women were small minorities in male-dominated environments," the report read.

"They had less access than male detainees to basic amenities, recreation areas and education.

"At times, male youth justice officers showed inappropriately sexualised behaviour towards girls and young women and otherwise behaved towards them in a way that did not meet society's expectations."

Strip searches, sexualised treatment by male guards

The commission described in detail the physical handling of female detainees by male guards that "failed to recognise the vulnerability of girls and young women".

The report includes CCTV still photographs of a 2009 strip search of a 15-year-old girl being placed in a cell in Don Dale.

The girl was held down by a guard named by the commission as Trevor Hansen while a female officer removed her clothes.

The commissioners were critical of a Professional Standards Unit investigation of the incident which found there was no breach of procedure, saying in their report that "the absence of a policy dealing with girls in essence absolved those concerned from being the subject of a negative finding".

Another girl who had attempted self-harm was stripped of all her clothing, including bra and underwear, with a Hoffman knife and described feeling "real shame [being naked] with all those men in the room".

The commission's report also gave examples of inappropriate behaviour by some male youth justice officers, including one who sent unsolicited sexualised Facebook messages to a teenage girl who had left Don Dale.

The girl was later sent back to Don Dale while the guard, who the commission named as Jon Walton, was still working there.

Mr Walton told the commission he was deeply ashamed and embarrassed about the messages.

"I was a very junior officer and I had very little real understanding of the position of power I held over the detainees," he said.

The commission said the hiring of Mr Walton and others highlighted "obvious risks to the protection and wellbeing of detainees in the care of inappropriately selected and trained staff members."

A training officer told the royal commission he had raised concerns with management about inappropriate contact, such as sexualised touching and cuddling, between male youth justice officers and female detainees.

One guard working in the Alice Springs facility in 2009 was investigated after telling a boy in the centre that he could strip search a girl who was entering the system, and remarking on whether female detainees were "legal" or not.

Unequal access to education, hygiene facilities

The commissioners identified a "combination of factors" that led to unequal treatment and access for girls and young women in detention, including the need to share facilities with male detainees who were greater in number and prioritised.

"For a period at the former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, females received lower quality education delivered in an inferior classroom compared with male detainees," the report read.

At the same centre, the report found, girls received "less frequent and shorter access to recreation facilities compared with the male detainees."

The report also described the shower facilities at the current Don Dale as "unacceptable", and described difficulties girls experience in getting access to pads and tampons.

The commissioners conclude that creating separate facilities for girls is not financially feasible because of their low average numbers in detention, but recommends changes in their treatment.

The commission has recommended that sufficient female guards be rostered on to supervise young women and girls, and that regulations be changed so that only female youth justice officers have physical contact with female detainees.