Ms Dhu 5a - Gendered Violence


Gendered Violence

Around 5pm on 2 August 2014, Ms Dhu was taken into custody under warrants of commitment for unpaid fines with her partner, Dion Ruffin, who was arrested for  breaches of a violent restraining order (VRO) against a former partner. Mr Ruffin was 17 years Ms Dhu’s senior. He was was known to police as a serial domestic violence perpetrator. Ms Dhu’s family had long held concerns about her safety and well-being with Ruffin, and made repeated attempts to get her away from him, including alerting police. Authorities entrusted with protecting Ms Dhu ignored evidence that she was a victim of severe domestic violence.

When they arrived at the lockup, Ms Dhu had some difficulty walking when she got out of the police vehicle. When questioned by First Class Constable Eastman, she indicated that she had a broken rib. At this point in time she was standing next to Mr Ruffin. The ultimately fatal sepsis that Ms Dhu suffered stemmed from injuries inflicted and re-inflicted by Mr Ruffin. No efforts were made to ensure that Ms Dhu was spoken to and assessed safely and in private. Ms Dhu was taken to Cell 3 and Mr Ruffin was placed in an adjacent cell.


‘She said that her man was flogging her and he done the broken ribs.’

The Late Mr Dhu (Ms Dhu’s Father)

Ms Dhu required safety, treatment, care and a timely, serious and effective investigation of the criminal family violence inflicted on her. Instead, the State criminalised her over unpaid fines and effectively legitimised and replicated the violent coercive control that she had been subjected to by her partner. The failure of police to respond to Ms Dhu’s disclosures and take seriously cases of family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women underscores that purveyors of state violence cannot be relied upon to prevent domestic violence. As anti-violence organisations like ‘INCITE!’ have advocated, alternative responses to gendered violence that do not promote the violence of the prison industrial complex are required.

The submissions of the First Nations Deaths in Custody Watch Committee to the State Coroner highlight the responsibilities of police to investigate domestic violence and the ways in which officers failed to fulfill their obligations to Ms Dhu.


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