RAWA statement – 19 December 2016

Fractured rib, fractured responsibility

The Redfern Aboriginal Women’s Alliance stands firmly in solidarity with the family and loved ones of Ms Dhu, Western Australian Aboriginal people and Aboriginal women around the country to demand accountability of those involved in the circumstances that led to her death from a heart attack at just 22 years of age.

Western Australia State Coroner Ros Fogliani’s inquest report recounts the actions and attitudes of a string of people who were responsible for Ms Dhu’s care and instead showed gross disregard for her health and wellbeing. RAWA is left with not a shred of doubt that this was because Ms Dhu was an Aboriginal woman.

The coroner’s report shows us the characters that work our hospital and police systems and how together they can spectacularly fail to give proper care to vulnerable Aboriginal women. The working relationship between police and hospital staff is critical – and their shared influence matters. Vulnerable Aboriginal women are especially prone to this working relationship being one that values the humanity of the person in their care. Cops and clinicians share a complicit understanding – especially in country towns – and their conversations based on earned trust privilege them with decision-making powers that drastically affect the life of the person in their care. They didn’t trust Ms Dhu. The shared decision was that she was untrustworthy.

The Coroner’s inquest was not about finding person or persons criminally responsible for her death and the 11 recommendations do not include charges against any person involved in Ms Dhu’s treatment. RAWA supports the family of Ms Dhu in their pursuit of findings that may identify criminal responsibility and, at the very least, an acknowledgement of moral accountability. Because at its core, Ms Dhu’s story is about the kind of people we have become and the kind of people we want to be in modern Australia.

Starting with her boyfriend, Dion Ruffin, twice her age and double her size, with a history of domestic violence. His “tussle” with Ms Dhu broke her ribs and opened her susceptibility to the infection that eventually claimed her life.

The medical staff at the Hedland Health Campus whose actions and decisions reproduced the dismissive environment that a vulnerable Aboriginal woman was placed in over and again.

The police, especially Constable Matier who was marked for special comment by the coroner for his inhumane and callous treatment of Ms Dhu as she was dying, whose cruel authority signifies the systemic failures that the justice system is renowned for.

RAWA notes that despite the release of footage of Ms Dhu’s agonising final days in police lock-up, no royal commission has been called into the soaring death and injury of Aboriginal women. The continued lack of the elite political sphere to show up and set domestic violence against Aboriginal women at the top of the social justice agenda is apparent against the West Australian premier’s pleading for recognition of police officers’ “difficult situation” in their worklife.

If we are to make a better future where Aboriginal women and girls can live happy and healthy lives without fear, we need to be able to trust that they will be treated with respect and dignity. We need to support Ms Dhu’s family to face the task ahead of them to go on and change the circumstances that allowed her unnecessary death.

NSW has benefited from the implementation of the Custody Notification System and RAWA supports the Coroner’s recommendation endorsed by Ms Dhu’s family and the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee to implement CNS in WA.



For further comment:  Nardia Green 0435 319 066 Suzanne Ingram 0400 983 812



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