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    These Images Of Teenagers Being Abused At A Detention Center Have Shocked Australia

    Authorities in the Northern Territory had been alerted multiple times to the abuse.

    Footage of children being stripped, hooded, left in isolation, and gassed by corrections guards have left many Australians shocked.

    ABC Four Corners

    Not least Australia's politicians. Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was "shocked and appalled" and immediately called for a royal commission into the Don Dale facility in Northern Territory (NT), where the events took place.

    There are three men at the centre of the unfolding crisis: sacked NT corrections minister John Elferink, NT chief minister Adam Giles, and federal Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion.

    AAP Images

    Giles sacked Elferink in the immediate wake of the Four Corners program, and claimed there was a "culture of cover-up" that meant he was not aware of what was going on.

    Scullion, who is not only responsible for the Indigenous affairs portfolio but also represents the NT in the federal parliament, responded to claims he was alerted to abuse at the centre: "It hadn't come to my attention, it hadn't piqued my interest sufficiently."

    So how reasonable is it that none of the men were aware of the abuse of children occurring behind the walls of the Don Dale facility?


    Back in April 2012, surveillance tapes emerged and were shown to NT government staff of inappropriate restraints on children at the centre.

    The NT children's commissioner Dr Howard Bath was asked by the government to write a confidential report into what was going on.

    He found that, "[The tapes] depicting the inappropriate and unsafe use of restraint were shown to senior staff of the Department of Justice and undertakings were provided that such practices would cease."

    Later that year, Bath sent the government formal recommendations on how best to restrain children.

    ABC News

    "In December 2012, the Office of the Children's Commissioner sent DOJ [department of justice] formal recommendations regarding the review and suggested implementation of safe intervention techniques."

    What happened next? "It appears the recommendations were not implemented at that time nor in the subsequent 18 months," according to a report.


    Fast-forward to August 2014: Six teens were gassed while in their cells after one boy broke out. The NT commissioner for corrections, Ken Middlebrook, was there at the centre and is heard on surveillance video telling an officer, "Mate, I don’t care how much chemical you use".

    ABC Four Corners

    At the time, NT corrections minister John Elferink praised the officers for stopping what he described in the media as a "riot".

    The NT children's commissioner, again, was asked to investigate the incident.

    By August 2015 the final report into the centre was handed to the NT government, addressed to the minister for children and families John Elferink. (Yes, Elferink served as minister for corrections and in the children and families portfolio.)

    NT Children's Commissioner

    The report cited the "handicam footage" later seen during Four Corners, including quotes from staff members.

    NT Children's Commissioner
    NT Children's Commissioner

    There are also descriptions of the "spit hoods" that were put on the heads of some of the boys, which drew comparisons to the conditions in Guantánamo Bay.

    NT Children's Commissioner

    A month later, September 2015, the NT children's commissioner's full report was made public and several news outlets reported on the incidents at the facility.


    More details keep emerging. A few days later, one 15-year-old boy told the ABC that staff goaded them into physically fighting each other for a can of Coke or piece of chocolate. He also recalled guards filming the boys eating animal faeces on Snapchat.

    Don Dale Youth Detention Centre (Supplied)

    NT police launched a criminal investigation into the allegations against guards at the facility, according to Elferink.

    Human rights organisations were well aware of what was going on in the centre. Last year, Amnesty International's Rodney Dillon warned the NT government that local and international guidelines for treating children were being breached at the centre.

    Rodney Dillon (Amnesty International Australia)

    By the time Four Corners went to air on Monday night, Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch told BuzzFeed News much of what was shown was well known to police, officials, MPs, and activists.

    Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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