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.
- 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
- 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
- McAuley Community Services for Women (October 2021) Family Violence, homelessness and ‘safe at home’: Data state of knowledge
- 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
- 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/