The release of the “Nauru files” last week revealed more than 2,000 incidents of sexual assault, child abuse and self-harm of asylum seekers, and documented the appalling living conditions for those held in offshore detention on Nauru.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton dismissed many of the files, including those documenting sexual assault, as “false allegations in an attempt to get to Australia”.
Dutton’s comments reinforce historically ingrained ideas about sexual assault victims as being “unreliable” or “untrustworthy”. His claims contribute towards a broader discourse that enables the dismissal, denial, and distrust of women and children who have experienced sexual violence.
The ‘unreliable’ victim of sexual assault
There is a long and problematic history of victim/survivors of sexual assault being constructed as “untrustworthy”. This is perhaps most infamously encapsulated in Sir Matthew Hale’s 17th-century remark that:
Rape is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, and harder yet to be defended by the party accused, tho’ never so innocent.