I recently wrote about the torture juvenile inmate Dylan Voller suffered in an Australian juvenile detention center. The story went viral and spawned an investigation into the abuse committed in the detention center. It also prompted protests against the torture and international condemnation.
While some responded to the news stories with outrage, many were unsympathetic to Dylan’s abuse. They argued that Dylan either would not have been in the position to be abused or somehow deserved as a result of his criminal behavior. I noted in my first post that Dylan Voller is hardly an angel. He has been in and out of jail since he was 12, and his most recent crime involved a drug-fueled crime spree culminating in a violent assault.
Yet much of prison abuse happened prior to that crime spree. It also appears that outside of that last offense the worst Dylan has done is throw things at people, break objects, spit at guards, and threaten to hurt himself. None of those appear to justify the cruelty the guards used against Dylan.
They do, however, hint at a broader issue with Dylan. It is one that I suspected as I watched the videos of the guards abusing him. Dylan’s mother confirmed my suspicions in a recent interview. Joanne Voller told reports that she now regrets calling the authorities on her son.
She explained that Dylan attended at least five different schools in three years due to his behavior. She eventually contacted the NT Department of Children and Families services after her son broke a window. They told her that her son would receive the help he needed if she reported him. Instead, Dylan ended up in spending more time in jail than outside. Joanne stated:
“At the time he needed counselling to help with his anger issues, but it’s not what he received in jail.
“I was seeking help, I was asking for help. I in no way thought he would be hooded and chained to a chair or thrown in isolation for 200 days at a time.
“I don’t see that as counselling or helping him.
“I really feel like I failed him by ringing the police that day when he broke my window, to be honest.”
Yet what stood out to me was the following comment:
Dylan’s family said he had emotional problems which should have been dealt with.
“Something happened in Dylan’s life that made him really angry that he didn’t talk about until he was older,” Joanne Voller said.
I realize that my experiences and my interactions with other people who share those experiences may color my perception of this comment. However, the comment sounds like Dylan may have been sexually abused. Again, I accept I could be wrong, yet the language matches what many people say when they do not want to discuss sexual abuse.
I suspected this when I saw how Dylan reacted to the guards assaulting him. I noted in my previous posts that Dylan never fought back, which is rather odd for someone supposedly so violent. Instead he cowers and complies. That matches what I have seen from people who were abused at a very young age. It also explains why Dylan appears so tepid in his violence toward others. The most he will do is apparently throw objects and spit at someone. He does not appear to outright assault anyone. The one instance we know of in which he did resort to physical violence he was high.
None of this excuses Dylan’s crimes. He should be punished for assaulting a random man. Yet, it is clear that this is someone with underlying issues of trust and abuse that prompt his anger and behavior. Rather than placing Dylan in jail, the government should have given him counseling. Instead, they locked in a cell with guards who preyed on someone who was obviously vulnerable. This resulted in Dylan spending more time in jail than outside since he was 12 years old. That is almost half his childhood imprisoned.
Dylan’s mother also makes a valid point. Had she done any of the things these guards did to her son, she would be in jail. Yet the guards are legally allowed to use this type of force and face no consequences for it. As I noted in my first post about this case, several guards were charged with violence against Dylan, and every one of them walked. One was even given another job at a juvenile prison after the governing body recommended against it.
To make matters worse for Dylan, at least three former guards from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre currently work at the adult prison where Dylan now resides. His attorneys have petitioned for early release, concerned about potential retaliation by guards and over the abuse Dylan suffered, but that it unlikely to happen.
As for why Dylan never received the help he needed, Antoinette Carroll, a youth justice advocate and Dylan’s case worker, had this to say:
“Looking at his challenging behaviours, getting a full diagnosis of exactly what Dylan was presenting with, if it was ADHD or early childhood trauma — there’s a whole raft of reports that have now been presented before the courts,” Ms Carroll said.
“But the lack of a systemic collaborative approach for him and his family really was a failing.
“These were issues that were long identified through the schooling system and through the courts.
“Endless court reports were presented on his behalf from services to say this is what should happen, clearly outlining a good post-release plan, but again that needed resourcing.
“Sadly when he was in the care of the Department of Children and Families they wouldn’t come to that, which was extraordinary because the cost was quite expensive but this was ongoing 24/7 support to the family — very cost effective in the long term, when we see the lengthy incarceration cost that Dylan Voller has gone through.”
In other words, it was cheaper in the short-term to lock Dylan Voller in a cell than it was to provide the therapy he needed.