The Safer2 program is combining cutting-edge technology and human ingenuity to keep Aussie families safe, writes David Goodwin.
For too many victims of domestic violence, the incredibly brave act of getting out of an abusive relationship is only the first step in a long journey to a new life. This journey can involve adjusting to new financial circumstances or re-entering the work force after a long absence, not to mention having to find the basic essentials that go into making a new home.
But what if, even after drawing a line in the sand and ending things, you were being stalked or harassed? What if you couldn’t even feel safe in your new home, but felt you were still trapped?
An innovative partnership between The Salvation Army and security and risk management firm, Protective Group, is attempting to address this issue as they pioneer a new model which also helps other organisations across Australia.
The Safer2 story began four years ago when Protective Group became involved in TSA’s ‘Safer in the Home’ project. With a team made up of experts with military and police backgrounds, Protective Group was hired to conduct property audits for at-risk families, and to provide safety recommendations. The audit included changing or upgrading door and window locks, installation of lights, installation of safety screens on doors, debugging of phones and even adding gates to remote and rural properties.
A one-off, targeted grant from the Federal Government of $3 million allowed an expansion of the services the program was able to provide, and enabled it to reach a whole new group of vulnerable women. While the Safer2 program still requires a referral from a Salvation Army service, other agencies are able to connect with the Salvos and take advantage of all they can offer.
The head of Protective Group, Stephen Wilson—who has a background in law enforcement as a Detective Sergeant at the National Crime Authority and Drug Bureau—worked closely with Salvo employees Robyn Roberts and Carolyn Russell to take the project nationwide, while ensuring it is at the cutting edge of keeping women safe.
In addition to the original audit services, Safer2 now addresses the increasing use of technology to stalk or intimidate victims of domestic violence. With up to 70% of women experiencing family violence reporting having been followed or tracked via technological devices, it’s become a vital part of the service.
With the tools and knowledge to deal with obvious spyware on electronic devices, Protective Group provide advice on social media use, including awareness of geotagging and location tracking, and assist in changing passwords on computers and phones. They also work with external professionals to check for tracking devices on vehicles.
Perhaps one of the most exciting innovations to come out of the program, with potential applications that go far beyond the Safer2 program, is the use of duress alarms for women and children. Those at risk are provided with a discreet wearable device that can be triggered in seconds, alerting police and providing them with GPS coordinates—allowing a response time of just minutes. And the moment it is activated it begins uploading audio of the surroundings to a cloud-based server, potentially providing evidence in criminal prosecutions.
“This shows the way technology can be used for good, as opposed to being used to perpetuate abuse,” Stephen told Warcry. “And our TekSafe duress alarms could potentially be used to save lives in other areas, like mental health or aged care.”
I’ve had women tell me that this has given them their life back, that they no longer feel like prisoners.
~ Stephen Wilson, head of protective group
Technology is only part of the reason why the Safer2 program has been enthusiastically welcomed by other not for profits and law enforcement organisations across Australia—to the point where Stephen has seen magistrates handing out flyers for the program at trials. There is a simple explanation—the program works.
Since its launch, the initiative has assisted over 1000 women and their children, proving to be an astonishingly effective use of limited resources. The referral system also ensures that those accessing the program get the wrap-around support that The Salvation Army can provide, including chaplains, case managers, legal advice and counselling.
From a financial point of view it is easily measurable, with the way it is packaged making it simple to work out how many women can be helped with a specific dollar amount. This has made it attractive to potential donors because they can see the difference their donation is making.
“A number of corporate organisations want to provide support for employees who have experienced domestic violence,” says Ann Sathasivam, a project coordinator with The Salvation Army. “The Safer2 program would allow them to do so in a tangible way and see immediate impact.”
But the financial benefits are just one part of the picture. For Stephen and his team, their motivation comes from the daily evidence that this program is changing lives in an incredible way.
“I’ve had women tell me that this has given them their life back, that they no longer feel like prisoners,” he says. “But perhaps the story that moved me the most was the teenage male who had gotten to the point where he was scared to go down the street in case his father might be waiting. After we fitted him with a duress alarm and explained how it could keep him safe he was a changed person. He said it literally saved his life, because he’d begun to feel like life wasn’t even worth living.”
It’s clear that this is more than just a job for Protective Group, as they keep looking for ways to do even more for the people they are helping.
“Because we were often doing initial consultations with people who had very little to their name, we asked if we could be given $20 vouchers to hand out where needed, just to make life a bit easier during what is a pretty tough time,” he says.
The program has been able to reach the most vulnerable, with 104 of the women helped so far coming from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) backgrounds. Those involved in coordinating the program are aware of the unique challenges these women face, and recently employed an ATSI team member to work out of their Darwin office.
The Safer2 program is an example of what collaboration and innovation can achieve, and could become a template for the future. But with the initial funding running out in the middle of next year, it’s important to keep sharing these success stories of lives transformed in a very real way.
With the support of the Federal Government and the Australian public, we can continue to make sure that at-risk women and children can feel safe—because, after all, doesn’t everyone deserve a safe home of their own?
If you, or someone you know, have been impacted by domestic violence you can contact the Salvos on 13 SALVOS (13 72 58)