In news that surprised no one, a woman charged that inmates at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre are sexually harassed by guards.
A former detainee at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre has alleged that women held there have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances and abuse by security guards and other officials.
Testimony seen by the Observer and now with police, “Tanja”, a 23-year-old Roma woman released from Yarl’s Wood last March, describes having had sexual contact with three male guards. Tanja – not her real name – said attempts were made to deport her within days of her informing Yarl’s Wood’s management of the incidents. She also claims one security guard had inappropriate relations with at least four women.
The claims raise fresh questions over the treatment of vulnerable women at the Bedfordshire site, which is Britain’s largest immigration removal centre for women and can house up to 400 people. Sources at Yarl’s Wood say that more cases are likely to come to light following Tanja’s testimony, as women have been too fearful to come forward until now.
The next day the Guardian reported that the police have launched an investigation.
Harriet Wistrich of the law firm Birnberg Peirce urged the government to investigate and said consent could be an issue in the matter. Wistrich said the alleged case revealed by the Observer, involving a Roma woman who was released from the centre last March, was not an isolated one.
“The government needs to look at what the hell is going on at Yarl’s Wood, that this could happen in such a widespread abuse,” she said. “It’s not a one-off. They need to investigate the whole system there, because it has not worked.”
She said the issue was whether individuals being detained at the centre were capable of giving consent, adding: “The problem is that it is not an environment where they are making free choices at all … If an officer conducts himself way outside the permitted rules of behaviour, that may amount to another offence of misconduct in public office, whether it was consensual or not, even if it is not an assault.
“This is precisely the kind of case the government says they are gong to remove legal aid from. It is a classic example of the government saying they are saving money but actually, they’re removing challenges to the abuse of state powers.”