Initial government funding of $2.8 million for the program helped 400 victims in total between 2016 and 2019.
National figures show most victims of family violence are women and children. Gayle Correnti, who manages the national program for the Salvation Army, said it was suitable for low-risk situations.
“Historically, a lot of women have had to leave their home because they don’t feel safe and they end up in homelessness,” Ms Correnti said. “This allows women who would be safe with safety upgrades to actually stay where they are, for the children’s schooling not be disrupted, and so they’re not living in fear.”
Grant Killen, managing director of Concentric Concepts, is a former navy clearance diver and former member of the Diplomatic Close Personal Protection Team for the police. Mr Killen, who works in Queensland and part of NSW, sub-contracts some of the Salvos work from Protective Group.
He said a key tool was a personal duress alarm, usually on a watch so it couldn’t be dropped or thrown across the room.
In one case, a perpetrator hid in a cupboard and assaulted a women when she returned home from shopping.“She was able to activate her duress alarm and the police were there in about seven minutes,” Mr Killen said. “They could hear everything that was going on because the monitoring centre had it on the speaker going through to 000. They made entry with an urgent response and potentially saved her life and also the life of an unborn child that she didn’t know about at the time.”
However, Mr Killen said personal duress alarms were “not a silver bullet” and there needed to be “layers of protection” to slow the perpetrator and reduce risk.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said the Salvation Army funding was part of the government’s Keeping Women Safe in their Homes program, which provided $18 million to nine providers over seven years.
Associate Professor Kylie Valentine, from the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, said safe at home programs had not been evaluated comprehensively but the signs were positive.
“It’s a promising new response to domestic and family violence, in conjunction with crisis and other support but it can’t work as replacement for refuges and emergency responses,” Dr Valentine said.
Sydney Women’s March will launch a campaign this week week targeting the NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman using the slogan #AtWhatCost. The campaign is demanding immediate action to adopt the Safe State recommendations developed by experts in the sector, such as the establishment of an independent statutory body focused on gender-based violence.
KPMG estimates the total cost of violence against women and their children in Australia at $22 billion a year – $6 billion in NSW alone.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the associate editor of The Sun-Herald and a columnist.