Yarl's Wood Sexual Abuse Allegations

Hundreds of female asylum-seekers are held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. Yarl’s Wood, which opened in 2001, is run by the private security company SERCO.

Between September 2013 and April 2014, allegations of the sexual abuse of at least two female detainees - by SERCO guards - have been made public. Also made public were the allegations of inappropriate sexual contact between female inmates and Serco guards. Some women detained at Yarl’s Wood have alleged that they were encouraged to engage in sexual acts by the promise of rewards such as; release from the detention centre; or speedy review of and favourable results in their asylum application.

On 18 September 2013, REDRESS wrote to Bedfordshire Police stating that:

1) There is ample international jurisprudence according to which sexual abuse by guards on women in custody can amount to torture, which we are ready to furnish upon request.

2) The police and the prosecuting authorities should treat the allegations made with the utmost seriousness which they deserve, taking into consideration the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and other international treaties; further and in particular, when considering appropriate charges the provisions of s.134 of the Criminal Justice Act (the offence of torture) should be taken into account.

3) The security guards alleged to be responsible would clearly fall within the provisions of the said section even if employed by a private company such as SERCO, being “persons acting in an official capacity” in terms of s. 134 (2) (a) (ii) of the Criminal Justice Act.

4) Corporate liability and/or the liability of persons other than the direct alleged perpetrators (the guards) should be fully considered under English criminal law; we also draw your attention to the article 4 of the UNCAT which provides for the criminalisation of “complicity or participation in torture.”

REDRESS received a response on 15 October 2013, confirming receipt of our letter and stating that Bedfordshire Police Public Protection Unit (PPU) was investigating the matter.

REDRESS wrote to Bedfordshire Police PPU again on 4 July 2014 asking for an update. REDRESS has not yet received a response to this letter.

On 11 August 2014, REDRESS wrote to Rashida Manjoo, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences with information about the allegations emanating from Yarl's Wood. See a summary report of her visit to the UK, here (15 April 2014).

On 3 October 2014, REDRESS submitted evidence to the United Kingdom's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and  the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration's Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention. This Detention Inquiry was put together in part following the above allegations. More information on the Inquiry is available here.

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