Embedding family violence lived experience

Reflecting on the establishment of Safe and Equal’s Expert Advisory Panel

Tuesday 1 February 2022

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Following the development and release of the Family Violence Experts by Experience Framework, Safe and Equal began work in 2021 to prioritise embedding the voices of those with lived experience within the organisation. A key step in this work was the establishment of the peak’s first survivor advocate advisory mechanism, the Expert Advisory Panel.

As we commence our second year of working with the Expert Advisory Panel, it is timely to reflect on how we have implemented principles of the Experts by Experience Framework in our organisation, and what we have learned along the way.


The Experts by Experience Framework is based on the belief that responses to family violence will be most effective and safe if they are informed and developed in partnership with victim survivors. 

The recognition that victim survivors hold valuable knowledge and expertise about family violence and the service system is reflected in key Safe and Equal documents, including our Strategic Plan and the Code of Practice. 

To support staff to understand and recognise the value of lived experience and how it connects to their work, we undertook surveys and workshops in an effort to determine organisational readiness for engagement with lived experience and survivor advocacy. These spaces provided staff with the opportunity to share and discuss their fears and excitement for this work, and highlighted gaps where more work was required to build capacity and inform our pathway forward. They also provided us with more understanding of the different sources of lived experience in the sector – including the lived experience of clients, survivor advocates and the workforce. 

These tools will form part of an ongoing process, particularly as new staff commence within the organisation.  


“I was happy you considered me although I was still experiencing family violence, because you can still be in the middle of the situation and do advocacy. My most powerful advocacy has been when my case has been active. It is disempowering when someone decides I can’t advocate. We can assess our own safety.” 

Expert Advisory Panel member


Following the recruitment process was complete and members of the Panel were confirmed, we worked with each individual to identify and understand any legal, physical, emotional or cultural safety considerations. Where risks to safety were identified, we explored what support or protections were needed to enable safe participation. These include: 

  • Using a pseudonym for external communications and/or events 
  • Not sharing email addresses publicly 
  • Reviewing any quotes or stories before publication, to ensure they are captured in a way that protects anonymity 
  • Taking breaks during meetings as required, and encouraging panel members to switch their cameras off if needed 
  • Turning comments off on social media 

As safety considerations can change over time, it is important to revisit these risks frequently. 


The Experts by Experience Framework outlines the importance of not only recognition for survivor advocate expertise, but also financial remuneration for their time and contributions. 

While there are many ways to ensure survivor advocates are remunerated for their work, we elected for members of the Expert Advisory Panel to be engaged as employees of Safe and Equal. This is due to the nature of the role, to ensure panel members accrue superannuation, and our desire to engage panel members as staff of the peak. 


Establishing transparent processes in the way we engage with survivor advocates has been a major element of this work. Having a purpose and providing clear information supports survivor advocates to make informed decisions about what they participate in, including the nature of the engagement, degree of influence, time commitment and any limitations.  

To foster transparency and clear communication, we initially chose to provide written project briefs to survivor advocates, as well as verbal briefs in meetings or on phone calls. Feedback from panel members indicated that we have an over-reliance on written communications, and that this is not always accessible. To mitigate this, we have been exploring the use of short, pre-recorded video briefs. 

“When I’m in a trauma space I’m not reading; it’s 5 bullet points at most because of limited brain storage. So, it’s a balance – enough information, but (you) don’t want to overwhelm people.” 

Expert Advisory Panel Member


Panel members also have the opportunity to review work they have provided input to, to ensure all points have been accurately represented. Where possible, we also provide feedback on how their contributions have influenced change, big or small. 


Building in processes for accountability in all aspects of this work builds trust, as well as opportunities for innovation and continuous improvement. Through surveys, group reflections and workshops, there are regular opportunities and avenues for survivor advocates to let us know what is working well, and more importantly what is not working or could be improved.  

In 2021, we undertook a ‘health check’ panel, where we heard what was working well and identified opportunities for improvement, including: 

  • Sending reminders the day before meetings 
  • Recapping old and new business at the start of each meeting  
  • Setting up a WhatsApp group for communications between meetings
  • Using different forms of communication, not just written, e.g., video, images 


“From the get-go I felt like I could be honest and open and felt safe to do so. I think that is because of a human approach, caring and holding space…I didn’t go into the space thinking I had to perform – I could be a human and that’s a huge relief.”  

Expert Advisory Panel member


Throughout the establishment of the Expert Advisory Panel, it has been incredibly important to ensure the space is safe and supportive. This has included incorporating formal and informal trauma-informed support, such as: 

  • Access to a family violence-informed Employment Assistance Provider 
  • Warm referrals to specialist services as required
  • Generating a set of shared values for the panel
  • Using a check in and check out discussion tool
  • Allowing survivor advocates to engage in ways that work for them on the day 

The wellbeing of panel members is a top priority. We have learned that making these supports readily available has enabled survivor advocates to more comfortably participate in the panel and feel safe to ‘step back’ or implement boundaries when needed. 

“Advocates can be ‘messy’. We are trying to manage our triggers but also being passionate about the work. Push into that too, ‘how do we help you on your messy days? and how do we support you on those days?” 

Expert Advisory Panel member



Identifying and addressing power imbalances and taking the time to understand each person’s motivations and values has been integral to building trusting relationships and has allowed the Expert Advisory Panel to work collaboratively and honestly with each other and with Safe and Equal. This is always a work in progress, but some strategies we have implemented to address power imbalances include: 

  • Having check-ins that all staff, survivor advocates or people in other roles participate equally in
  • Ensuring the Safe and Equal team show up authentically, model vulnerability and are honest about what they are bringing into a space
  • Being mindful of who else is in the space and not out-numbering survivor advocates, as this changes the power dynamic
  • Ensuring people who are in the meeting have a clear role and purpose, and that this is communicated clearly
  • Following through on implementation changes that the panel suggests
  • Being mindful of which voices are being heard, and which voices are not – making a concerted effort to create space for the quieter voices to be heard 

“I didn’t feel a power imbalance. I didn’t feel like I had to front up with presentation or personality that would fit. Sometimes as a victim survivor I get torn or feel I have to mask authenticity to fit in with workplace expectations. I didn’t have to battle a notion to prove you are experienced enough to do the work.”  

Expert Advisory Panel member



Partnering with and learning from the members of the Expert Advisory Panel relies on establishing trusting and authentic relationships and being open to continuous learning and improvement. We have learned it is important to approach this work from a place of mutual learning, with curiosity and without all the answers. For us, this has meant proactively seeking feedback and being open to welcoming critique, implementing suggested changes in a timely manner, and asking questions to understand.  

This process has also highlighted the importance of approaching work with the panel in a way that welcomes ‘blue sky thinking’ – panel members bring a lot of advocacy experience, but also skills and expertise in a number of different areas that add significant value to their contributions.  


“For [Safe and Equal] to welcome people with a criminal record, was a huge benefit and relief. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have applied.” 

Expert Advisory Panel member


To support inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives, we wanted to be clear and deliberate about seeking engagement from victim survivors whose voices may not usually be heard. This involved reflecting on and acknowledging the ways that gender inequality intersects with other forms of inequality and oppression, such as colonialism, ableism, white supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia and classism.  

In seeking engagement and insight from a broad range of perspectives, it was critical to remove existing barriers for victim survivors who experience marginalisation and systemic oppression. One example of this was around police checks. As an organisation, we were transparent of the need for selected panel members to complete a police check, however explicitly stated that a police check result would not necessarily prevent someone being successful in the role. 

“What surprised me about the process is getting appointed to the committee. It is really important to have different perspectives and acknowledge experience of LGBTIQA+ victim survivors.”  

Expert Advisory Panel member


As diverse as the panel of survivor advocates are, they do not represent the views and experiences of all victim survivors. The work to remain aware of missing voices is ongoing, as are efforts to elevate and create space for others, including working collaboratively with other survivor advocacy groups such as inTouch’s Noor and Women with Disabilities Victoria’s Experts by Experience working group. 


Like many in the specialist family violence sector trying to meaningfully embed the voices of lived experience, resourcing and sustainability remain prevailing issues. While we continue to put in place creative methods to fund this work including private sector grants, philanthropy and utilising fee for service models, of key significance is the cultural shift and genuine commitment to ensuring victim survivor expertise is at the centre of everything we do, from the Experts by Experience Implementation Plan, to budget submissions and government advocacy. 

Taking careful steps to meaningfully engage with lived experience voices has had considerable impact. Survivor advocates were pivotal in informing and leading key pieces of work within the organisation, including the Safe and Equal name and branding, shaping our submission to the Successor National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, and co-designing and delivering a Children and Young People Forum, among many others.  

For us, the implementation process has provided ample learnings. We have learned that seemingly small projects or pieces of work can have a large influence and impact, and fostering genuine and authentic relationships is vital and enables us to know when things are challenging or not working well. We have also learned that to ensure maximum influence, we must ensure survivor advocates have the opportunity to work on a project from the beginning. 

Through these learnings, we have also discovered gaps and complexities that require more attention, including the irregular nature of hours and work for survivor advocates, and the need to create further opportunities for emerging advocates to gain experience and build capability. Importantly, more funding is needed for the sector to implement this work. 

Having the opportunity to work alongside survivor advocates is a privilege, and the individuals in these roles are incredibly generous with their experience and expertise. We look forward to continuing to partner with the Expert Advisory Panel to support work across all areas of Safe and Equal in 2022. 

Page last updated Tuesday, February 1 2022


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