PiP Member Spotlight: Sam House from City of Kingston

PiP Member Spotlight: Sam House from City of Kingston

Monday 24 April 2022

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This month, we spoke to Sam House, Social Policy and Planning Officer from City of Kingston, about her vital work with Active Kingston, supporting local clubs to promote gender equality and diversity, including through upcoming initiatives with Proud2Play.

Social media handles: www.linkedin.com/in/samhouse01 
Length of time a PiP member: Over five years 
List of PiP activities attended: Various in-person and online events, including the PiP 2017-18 seminar series with guest speaker, Dr Marion Frere – my then-CEO in the Office for Prevention and Women’s Equality. 

A headshot of Sam House

What is your professional background? How did it lead you to prevention work?  

My introduction to working in the prevention of family violence space was serving as the Secretariat of the Victorian Government’s then-Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Forum and later, in a policy officer role within the Office for Prevention and Women’s Equality – Respect Victoria Establishment Team (then Department of Health and Human Services).  

I moved to local government, coordinating a 12-month community-led, place-based project with the City of Kingston which engaged cultural and faith diverse community leaders in training to prevent family violence and promote gender equality in their organisations and communities. From there, I’ve been leading Council’s work to prevent family violence, including the implementation of their Prevention of Family Violence Action Plan 2019-2021 and more recently, Year 2 and 3 annual actions to prevent family violence under Kingston’s Municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2021-2025. 

When did you become passionate about gender equality?  

Personally, it was probably when I wasn’t allowed to join the same Scout troop as my older brother because I was a girl and they didn’t have any female leaders. This led to the recruitment of their first female leader and my pioneering as the first female Scout of that unit!  

Professionally, it was my role in helping establish Respect Victoria and gaining a deeper understanding of the research and evidence-base around the overwhelming and disproportionate rates of men’s violence against women and children in Victoria. I am a passionate advocate for the role we can all play to challenge gender inequality (and other social justice inequities), which drive family and gender-based violence. 

(I think the recent implementation of Gender Impact Assessments across public sector agencies, including teams and departments not normally engaged in this space, will be instrumental in helping embed an intersectional lens in program and service delivery, and advance gender equality in Victoria)!  

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on now: 

We recently briefed Council on key outcomes of its 16 Days of Activism campaign for 2022, which included an engaging webinar on ‘Equality and Respect in Sport: Promoting gender equality on and off the field’ (recording available here). We’re continuing to work with Active Kingston on how we can support local clubs to promote gender equality and diversity, including through upcoming initiatives with Proud2Play.  

Our free online (and hardcopy) primary prevention toolkit has also launched, developed with the Kingston Family Violence Working Group. The toolkit includes a poster series in English and eight other languages and a set of social media tiles that promote equality and respect across a range of settings (see www.kingston.vic.gov.au/services/health-and-support/prevention-of-family-violence > ‘Promoting equality and respect). 

What skills do you use in your role?  

Brief writing, presentation skills, project management, time management, stakeholder engagement and coordination, understanding of the policy and legislative landscape in Victoria and within our region, and active listening to ensure Council is adequately responding to community need.  

What do you like about working in primary prevention? What drew you here? 

I believe primary prevention is such as an important part of the work to end family violence in Australia and ‘stop it before it starts’. I like that primary prevention can empower people as advocates in this space, with increased knowledge and capability to recognise and challenge the underlying drivers of family and gender-based violence and contribute to positive change.  

What have you found useful in the work that Safe and Equal & PiP do to support prevention workers?  

Previous training workshops to build the foundations of understanding family violence 101 have been valuable for groups such as our internal Family Violence Staff Support Officers. Safe and Equal’s leadership around the statewide 16 Days of Activism has also been incredibly valuable to supporting key initiatives in Kingston.   

What advice do you have for someone new to the PVAW sector?  

To quote Change Our Game Ambassadors, Lauren Foote and Mel Jones OAM, who were such valuable contributors to our recent 16 Days of Activism webinar, ‘Ripples [of this work] can spread pretty far’, ‘The dividends will probably show long after we are in these positions but that as we know is the way of social change sometimes’. 

Whose work do you admire?  

I admire the work of many women who are leading and advocating in this space at the national and state level, including author Jess Hill, Kit McMahon (WHISE), Amy Prendergast (Respect Victoria), Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa (architect of the Gender Legislative Index), Dr Manjula O’Connor (Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health and author) and our male allies, including Dr Michael Flood (XY Online) and AFL player and Our Watch Advocate, Ben Brown.  

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Page last updated Monday, April 24 2023


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Achieving Safe at Home responses for victim survivors: programs and policies

Achieving Safe at Home responses for victim survivors

Programs and Policies

Tuesday 18 April

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This article was published in Council to Homeless Persons’ Parity: “Safe at Home” March 2023 Edition.

Authors: Courtney Wamala, Personal Safety Initiative Coordinator and Kate Mecham, Policy Manager – Safe and Equal

The concept of a Safe at Home response for family violence victim survivors was developed in recognition that, when a victim survivor wishes to stay in their current home and it is safe for them to do so, they should not be required to leave following an incident of family violence.  Instead, the perpetrator should be held accountable and removed from the property.

Research into homelessness and family violence has demonstrated that providing victim survivors with a Safe at home response is crucial to enabling them to maintain some stability following the experience of family violence and can reduce homelessness among victim survivors. 1 In order to support victim survivors to remain safely in their homes, a full system approach needs to be applied to remove the perpetrator from the property, keep them in view and ensure that they are being held accountable for their behaviour. This full system approach requires family violence support services, housing services, the police, the court system, child protection and any other relevant services (e.g., mental health, alcohol, and other drugs etc.) to come together and consistently turn their attention to the perpetrator, how their actions are impacting on the victim survivor’s safety and to seek to address that behaviour.  As part of the full system approach, and to assist victim survivors to remain safely in their homes, specific programs have been developed and implemented in Victoria, including the Personal Safety Initiative (PSI) and the Flexible Support Packages (FSP) programs.

The PSI and FSP programs were funded and implemented in Victoria following the Royal Commission into Family Violence after it was identified that one of the ways to support victim survivors to remain safely in their homes would be through the implementation of security responses in the home and provision of brokerage to support this.

The PSI program provides targeted security advice and responses for victim survivors of family violence. There are 17 PSI Coordinators across the state, each with extensive knowledge of family violence and security responses that can be implemented to assist victim survivors. Victim survivors can be referred by a case manager to the PSI program for a safety and security audit to be conducted on their home, which will then identify security measures that should be installed on the home based on the perpetrator’s behavior and the layout of the property. Security measures can be installed on a property that the victim survivor shared with the perpetrator or on a new property if the victim survivor was required or chose to relocate. Security measures that may be recommended include but aren’t limited to security doors, CCTV, technology sweeps of devices, bug sweeps of homes and cars, dash cameras, additional locks, and personal safety devices. Brokerage to fund the installation of these security items can be provided through the FSP program.

FSP providers are also located in regions across the state of Victoria and work closely alongside the PSI Coordinators – in some cases they are located in the same agencies. Brokerage provided by the FSP program is not limited to funding security items. Rather, the program was created to provide victim survivors (both adults and children) with a brokerage program that is holistic and can fund any items that will aid with their recovery from family violence, such as food vouchers, counselling sessions, educational costs, housing costs and legal costs. In the context of safe at home responses, having access to this flexible brokerage money can be critical to help a victim survivor establish themselves in their home independent of the perpetrator.

PSI and FSP are great initiatives to support victim survivors who wish to remain safely in their homes. However, these programs can only do so much. Rates of homelessness among women and children remain high and family violence continues to be the main reason that women and children report they seek support from a homelessness service. 2 As noted above, a whole system approach needs to be applied to aid with the safety of victim survivors. However, research conducted by McAuley Social Services on safe at home responses3 found that in addition to needing a whole of system response, there are systemic and structural barriers that impact on victim survivors’ ability to stay safe in their homes and get on the path to recovery from family violence.

First, the justice system needs to provide a stronger and more consistent response when holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and behavior. Too often victim survivors face barriers when reporting ongoing incidents of family violence and breaches to Intervention Orders, resulting in either the perpetrator not being charged or charged inappropriately. Many victim survivors also find it difficult to find legal support, further compounding the challenges they face when dealing with the justice system. There are limited legal support options available for victim survivors and these supports can be expensive. Lack of access to legal support significantly reduces the likelihood that victim survivors will get just outcomes, increases the chances of perpetrators weaponising the legal system against them, and significantly increases the stress and trauma experienced by victim survivors.

Second, the current programs in place to work with perpetrators are not providing the results needed. These programs are rarely well coordinated with victim survivors and victim survivor programs. More research and evaluation of effective programs needs to be developed to improve the way services work with perpetrators. Strengthened links and collaboration with victim survivors and victim survivor programs is also needed to ensure the work being done in perpetrator specific and allied services is contributing to victim survivors feeling safer. Alongside this, strengthened coordination across allied services, such as alcohol and other drug and mental health services, which have contact with perpetrators is also needed. These services have a valuable role in information sharing to inform safety planning for victim survivors and reinforcing a whole of system response to keep perpetrators accountable for their behavior, not collude and demonstrate that violence is unacceptable. This can help ensure that the work being completed with the perpetrator within perpetrator specific programs is reinforced.

Third, many victim survivors face economic barriers to staying safely in their home. We know that women are more likely than men to be under employed, in insecure work, working in lower paid, traditional female dominated industries, and paid less than their male counterparts in similar roles.4 We also know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, women were more likely to lose their jobs and that women’s rates of employment have been the slowest to bounce back. 5 This economic exclusion, coupled with the high costs of housing and the impacts of financial abuse as part of family violence, results in many victim survivors being unable to afford to stay in their home without the perpetrator’s additional income. This can lead to victim survivors defaulting on mortgage payments or accruing rent arrears and potentially ending up homeless. Moving into cheaper private rental properties or social housing are rarely options due to the lack of affordable housing and long social housing waitlists. If we want more victim survivors to be able to stay safely in their homes, we need economic reform that increases income support payments to livable levels and increases access to well-paying jobs for women. We also need systemic reform to the housing market and policy to make housing more affordable and we need significant and sustained investment from all levels of government into expanding the volume of social housing stock.

To increase victim survivors’ ability to remain safely in their homes, if they wish to do so, we need a whole of system reform that continues to fund programs like PSI and FSPs and brings a wide range of community services, together with police and courts to work toward victim survivors’ safety and perpetrator accountability. We also need government policies that intentionally and actively seek to reduce the systemic and structural barriers that still prevent many victim survivors from being able to stay in their homes and put them at risk of homelessness.

No single solution on its own will enable a safe at home response. It requires sustained political will at all levels of government and an ability to think of solutions beyond the homelessness and family violence sectors. However, in Victoria, we already have many of the ingredients we need for success: family violence literacy, common risk assessments and information sharing to keep the perpetrator in view are all increasing. Many of the reforms that came out of the Royal Commission into Family Violence have laid the groundwork for us to strengthen safe at home responses. Family violence and homelessness among victim survivors is preventable. Ensuring people experiencing family violence can remain safely in their homes is a critical part of that puzzle.


  1. Department of Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (2008) The Road Home: A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness – A White Paper Ch 3 Turning off the tap p 33 https://apo.org.au/node/2882; The Victorian Government (2016) The Royal Commission into Family Violence Ch 9 A Safe Home http://rcfv.archive.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Report-Recommendations.html
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Specialist Homelessness Services 2020-21: Victoria https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/7b4924b3-a48b-4150-9fac-7de836dcccfd/VIC_factsheet.pdf.aspx
  3. McAuley Community Services for Women (October 2021) Family Violence, homelessness and ‘safe at home’: Data state of knowledge
  4. Equality Rights Alliance Women’s Voices for Gender Equity (2019) National Plan on Gender Equality: Economic Wellbeing http://www.equalityrightsalliance.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/19703-ERA-Economic-Wellbeing-web.pdf
  5. Wood, D; Griffiths, K; Crowley, T. (2021) The Grattan Institute. Women’s Work: The Impact of the COVID Crisis on Australian Women https://grattan.edu.au/report/womens-work/

Page last updated Tuesday, April 18 2023


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Agency and choice are key to recovery from family violence

Agency and choice are key to recovery from family violence

Tuesday 18 April 2023

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This op-ed was published in Council to Homeless Persons’ Parity: “Safe at Home” March 2023 Edition.

Author: Louise Simms, Executive Director – Policy, Communications and Engagement

Safe at Home responses – centred around supporting victim survivors of family violence to remain in their current home – are critical in our efforts to ensuring the family violence service system can meet the unique needs of every person experiencing abuse and can promote autonomy and choice on the road to recovery. 

Family violence is unique in the community services context. It is the only social issue whereby the agent of risk is another person; someone who is actively making choices to cause others to experience fear and danger. Perpetrators use violence to gain and maintain power and control, and they adapt their tactics based on the strategies victim survivors put in place to protect themselves. 

This is the operating context for family violence services – we call it ‘dynamic risk’. The role of the family violence system is to identify, assess and manage family violence risk. To do this effectively, our systemic responses should be just as dynamic.

Safe at Home, as a principle and a commitment, can be a powerful driver of flexible responses aimed at achieving whatever ‘safe at home’ means for each victim survivor.

With no two individual experiences of family violence the same, service responses – including Safe at Home responses – must be flexible to meet people wherever they are on their journey to safety. This flexibility, and the restoration of agency and choice, is critical for victim survivors’ long-term recovery. 

But what does it mean to truly meet a victim survivor where they are? 

While all experiences of family violence are different, something all victim survivors can relate to is the erosion of their sense of self. This kind of abuse chips away at a person’s autonomy and their ability to make decisions – something that can take years to rebuild, long after the immediate threat has been resolved. Many victim survivors talk about the experience of having a perpetrator tightly control or remove every possible freedom in their lives, and the impact this has on their confidence and their capacity to leave an abusive relationship and regain independence. When a service system is inflexible and unable to provide choice or autonomy for its users, it mimics the power and control of family violence and can make it very difficult for victim survivors to feel safe and secure. 

In many ways, this replication of a ‘power over’ dynamic and removal of individual agency is embedded in the way our family violence system is structured and funded. The system is focused on minimising risk and is not set up to restore choice and autonomy as a priority. Most policymakers have never accessed the systems they design, and the result is a system that does not respond to victim survivors as experts in their own needs and safety – something we must consistently challenge if we want to see change. 

One of the ways we can do this is by expanding the approaches available to enable victim survivors to remain safe in their own homes, if this is what they want to do. How we do this can look incredibly different – it can mean safety and security adaptations and so much more. For example, it could be creating opportunities for financial literacy and supporting access to employment, because, as we know, financial and economic stability is crucial for a victim survivor’s recovery from abuse. It could be ongoing, long-term counselling, or increased access to legal support. 

With family violence the number one driver of homelessness among women and children in Australia, this is not only about offering flexibility and choice, but about preventing homelessness in an already over-stretched housing system. 

Systemic and structural barriers exist across the family violence service landscape, including within Safe at Home responses. Programs can only do so much to keep victim survivors safe and hold perpetrators accountable without a whole-of-system effort to bring together a wide range of community services, as well as police and justice responses all working towards a common goal. Part of this is the recognition that what enables a Safe at Home response looks different for everybody. 

Anything the service system can do to restore a victim survivor’s sense of agency in their safety and recovery is valuable and should be prioritised. Much of this can be supported by meaningful engagement with people’s lived experiences of family violence and of accessing support services. By embedding lived expertise in system and service design, we can shift to a ‘power with’ approach, remain accountable and identify areas for improvement, while also creating opportunities for victim survivors to engage with the system as consultants, advocates and leaders. 

Agency, autonomy and choice are key elements in someone’s recovery from family violence. When, at its core, a family violence system does not view those who use it as the experts in their own safety needs, it renders victim survivors unable to make decisions about their lives and hinders an integral component of their recovery. 

Family violence is complex, and the way we respond to it requires nuance and a long-term, concerted effort from our service system via a wide range of responses. Safe at Home responses are an integral part of this, though they are by no means the only response. We need to view being ‘safe at home’ as a guiding principle that informs the structure of our family violence system, one that is equipped to provide flexible and tailored responses that centre the expertise and agency of all victim survivors. 

Page last updated Tuesday, April 18 2023


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