Stop locking up women who are in family violence situations, says Ms Dhu’s family on White Ribbon Day

The coronial inquest into Ms Dhu’s tragic death in police custody has heard that Ms Dhu was in a violent relationship with her partner, Dion Ruffin, at the time of her arrest. Mr Ruffin was taken into custody together with Ms Dhu and was known to police as someone with a violent criminal history.

Della Roe, mother of Ms Dhu, said that police should do more to respond to women appropriately when they are in violent situations.

“Police need better training to identify and respond properly to vulnerable women who are in family violence situations. Women experiencing violence should not be locked up. They should be supported and given the opportunity to rebuild their lives,” said Ms Roe. 

Ms Dhu was suffering from broken ribs at the time she was arrested and taken into custody, an injury that ultimately led to her dying from septicaemia and pneumonia. The inquest has heard that Ms Dhu’s family believes her broken ribs were a result of the family violence she was experiencing.

“My daughter should have never been locked up. She should have been taken to a safe house or taken to a hospital for medical attention. If this had happened, she might be with me today,” said Ms Roe.

Western Australia has the highest rates of Aboriginal women’s imprisonment in Australia, with many women in prison having a history of family violence. One in every three women who enter prison in Western Australia are there for unpaid fines.

Carol Roe, grandmother of Ms Dhu, said that Western Australia needed to change and to stop locking up so many Aboriginal women.

“On White Ribbon Day, I ask Australia to remember that most women in prison have experienced family violence. Prison is not the place for women. Separating families and punishing vulnerable women is not the answer,” said Ms Roe.

Ruth Barson, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that Western Australia should abandon its policy of locking people up who cannot pay their fines, and learn from NSW’s system.

“Locking people up for unpaid fines is an unfair policy that impacts women and Aboriginal people most. It entrenches inequality and risks punishes the very women we should be protecting and supporting,” said Ms Barson.


For further information or comments, contact:
Ruth Barson, Human Rights Law Centre Senior Lawyer, 0417 773 037 or