In death Ms Dhu leaves us with an important legacy. This legacy is our responsibility to accept that through her death, we are forced to confront injustice at many levels. Our actions could be her long-term legacy.
I want to focus on three layers of injustice in particular.
First, we need to fully investigate the ongoing injustice of violence against Aboriginal women, with the lack of real and relevant services to met their specific needs. Even when a woman, for a number of reasons, does not seek help specific to the violence she has, and is experiencing, we need a trauma informed service which asks basic questions: is this women experiencing violence? Does she have injuries that need attention? Does she need protection from her assailant? What are her health and well-being needs?
Second, the police response to her unpaid fines was to lock her up. Women in crisis often incur fines, for reasons related to issues of violence-trauma. Recently in reviewing a situation of a woman incarcerated in the Northern Territory, I became aware that her multiple fines, and then incarceration for driving without a licence, were because she was often driving to get away from situations of violence by her partner. We need a different approach within the legal system, than fining people who cannot pay, and incarcerating them where they do not pay. Such people are generally in deep trauma crisis and surviving on a day-to-day basis. Trauma specific programs need to be offered to met those critical needs.
Finally, and more critically, we need to continue to confront the criminal neglect and treatment of Ms Dhu by both the West Australian police and WA health professionals. Their behaviour, as shown on television and footage at her inquest, show gross human rights violations. There is a critical need, across all service delivery, for workplaces to have trauma informed policies and practices. More particularly the workforce must have a knowledge of Aboriginal lives and historical and contemporary circumstances, with trauma specific skills to respond to these critical circumstances.
It is time the workforce across all sectors, has a trauma integrated approach to all human needs, more particularly in the instance of Ms Dhu, the history and situations that put her where she was, to be treated with the depth of disrespect and criminal behaviour that contributed to her death. Attending to issues of violence against Aboriginal women demands a multi-sectoral approach, with all sectors supporting such women in the complexity of their needs, through a culturally specific trauma lens.
Perhaps, in death, Ms Dhu challenges us to work together to change a system that continues to traumatise Aboriginal people, specifically Ms Dhu, both in her life and the impacts of her death on her family and others. Indeed this could be her long-term legacy.
Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson a Jiman / Bundjalung woman, now retired, has focused on issues of violence trauma healing within Aboriginal families and communities since 1990, more particularly combining community based work with evidence based approaches that are helping change the epidemic of generational violence - trauma - incarceration, a colonial construct which needs urgent attention.