In October 2019, Alysha started work as a clinical care consultant at Ashley Youth Detention Centre in northern Tasmania.
She quickly observed a series of incidents that opened her eyes to the widespread abuse and mistreatment of children inside the youth prison.
What she discovered working at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre was part of a shameful era in Australia’s history of institutional child sexual abuse – an episode that had been covered up and ignored by those in power. Alysha bravely decided to blow the whistle on the abuse and cover ups that were occurring, and has since gone on to meet with two Tasmanian premiers and give key evidence at a commission of inquiry.
In 2022, Alysha spoke to Nine’s Nick McKenzie for an episode of 60 Minutes, detailing the abuse she had witnessed during her time working at Ashley. She described incidents of children being mentally tortured, verbally, sexually and physically abused.
“A lot of them [the children] come from really difficult homes and backgrounds. They’re ticking every box for vulnerabilities,” she said on 60 Minutes.
She described the way some staff at Ashley spoke to and about the children in the prison, and said it was “very distressing” for her to hear. “It set off huge alarm bells — it was a much bigger job than I was prepared for,” she said.
Alysha spoke about one young female inmate who had been gang raped by a group of other inmates. “She was horrifically harmed,” Alysha said. She said it was reported to senior staff at the centre, but police were never called in.
This young female victim was just one of many victims of abuse inside the youth prison. There are reports of hundreds of alleged victims of child abuse over a period of decades.
The Ashley Youth Detention Centre is one of the subjects in a Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings. The final report of the inquiry will be released publicly on Tuesday.
The Commission held its closing hearing at the end of August, and released a statement that said for over two years, it had conducted over 150 consultations, received more than 95,000 documents and held nine weeks of hearings.
The commission focused on the Launceston General Hospital, Ashley Youth Detention Centre, out-of-home care and public schools. It has already made referrals for more than 100 people to police or child protection.
“The evidence was often harrowing,” the statement from the commission said.
Commission President Marcia Neave said a powerful message had been delivered at the inquiry.
“We are grateful to everyone who has helped us to better understand child sexual abuse in Tasmania, how such abuse may sometimes remain unrecognised or hidden and how calls for help, complaints or other attempts to address abuse have been ignored or met with inadequate responses,” Commissioner Neave said.
“Transparent and coherent mechanisms that enable institutions to prevent, identify, report and respond appropriately when concerns or allegations about child sexual abuse arise, must be embedded in all government institutions that engage with children.”
The report released on Tuesdayn is so expansive that it will include 191 recommendations and 3,500 pages long. Premier Jeremy Rockliff will make a statement when the report is tabled in parliament.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter) today, Alysha wrote: “Thank-you kids. For giving me the strength to go to Parliament today, to fight for you. So many of you can’t be present, or perhaps don’t even know that I’ve never stopped fighting on your behalf.”
“No one wants to find themselves in the position I did at work. I wish it wasn’t the case every day, but if it had to go like this, I consider myself blessed that the universe surrounded me with the angels required to see it through.”
“It takes a village to survive blowing the whistle. And my village is amazing.”
The day after Alysha met with former Tasmnian Premier Peter Gutwein to share with him her experience, he called a press conference to announce the Ashley Youth Detention Centre would close by the end of 2024. There have been many calls for the immediate closure of the youth prison.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family and domestic violence, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
If you are in immediate danger, call 000.