Instrumentalities of the Settler State 3k - Over-policed and Under-protected


Over-policed and Under-protected

Indigenous women are targeted and criminalised from birth. In many cases, women who should have been afforded protection by authorities have instead been treated with extreme violence by them.

Some studies suggest that almost 90% of Aboriginal women in prison experienced forms of sexual abuse by  non-Indigenous and Indigenous men as children, adolescents and as adults. A large percentage of Aboriginal women are in jail for having killed someone who has been violent to them (Atkinson, 2001).

In Australia, the targeting of Indigenous women is evident through the death in custody of Ms Dhu, a Yamatji-Nanda/Banjima woman who suffered domestic violence and should have been offered protection, not incarcerated. Ms Maher, a Wiradjuri woman, whose inquest findings were handed down in July 2019 and Aunty Tanya Day, a Yorta Yorta grandmother, were arrested for public drunkenness and died in custody soon after. Aunty Tanya Day’s inquest was the first to consider the role of systemic racism. As Alison Whittaker writes, ‘Systemic racism offers us some answers — not only on how Day died in a prison system, but also on how that prison system comes to be and behave in a way that targets Indigenous women like her.’


In the Northern Territory, Ms Lakuwanga was supposed to be taken into ‘protective custody’ after friends phoned police to report a domestic violence incident. After attending the house and speaking to no one other than the perpetrator, police instead decided to leave her in the care of her violent and intoxicated partner. Less than half an hour after they left, other officers attended and found her unconscious, lying naked on the floor. She died due to a ruptured spleen caused by violence.

In a horrific case in Broome, Western Australia, Tamica Mullaley was driven to hospital in handcuffs after being punched repeatedly, stripped naked and left by the side of the road by her then-de facto partner, Mervyn Bell. Later that same night, while Tamica Mullaley was in hospital, Bell abducted her 10-month-old son Charlie, and raped and murdered him in the course of the next thirteen hours. Police failed to protect Charlie, though Tamica’s father repeatedly told them that Bell had taken the baby. Police were more interested in attempting to charge Tamica and her father for obstructing them than with protecting baby Charlie.

In Canada, similar failures to protect occurred in the cases of Debra Chrisjohn of the Oneida Nation, Josephine Pelletier a Cree and Saulteaux woman who was shot dead by police and Mi’kmaq woman, Victoria Paul, as well as in the case of 16-year-old Tina Fontaine (discussed in detail later).  In the US, the death in custody of Sarah Lee Circle Bear underscores the  lethal denial of care to Indigenous women. It appears that resources are always available to incarcerate Indigenous women and girls; however, when they go missing, face threats of violence or experience medical emergencies, the resources disappear.


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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.