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5 min read

Leaving violence behind: Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre

Profile of Bronte Teddy
Written by Bronte TeddyPosted on 3/7/2023

Content warning: This story contains descriptions of domestic and family violence. If this brings up any concerns for you, please contact the national domestic violence helpline on 1800RESPECT.

Since its inception, Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre has provided victim-survivors of family and domestic violence with a safe refuge and specialist support services.

In 1979, a small group of women, operating out of a suburban house in Melbourne, started a domestic violence phone referral service, marking the organisation’s beginning.

40 years later, the not-for-profit has established itself as a crucial crisis response service for Victorian families.

Dr Chelsea Tobin.

It’s a service that provides “expert, culturally safe, trauma-informed care”, according to Safe Steps CEO, Dr Chelsea Tobin.

“Safe Steps operates 24/7 365 days a year to provide a specialist response to all victim-survivors of family violence,” says Dr Tobin.

“We are the crisis entry point to the wider family violence service system across Victoria, and often, our advice, assessment and action is needed to ensure there is not a devastating outcome and loss of life.”

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey, one in four women and one in eight men have experienced violence by an intimate partner or family member.

Meanwhile, a reported 8 million Australians (41 per cent) have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

Safe Steps’ emergency accommodation

In 2021–22, Safe Steps found emergency accommodation for over 3,000 victims-survivors, and, despite 72 per cent being classed as ‘serious risk’ or ‘serious risk requiring immediate protection’, more than 90 per cent of cases were housed in motels rather than specialist crisis accommodation. It’s something, Dr Tobin says, Safe Steps needs the support of the community to change.

“No one wants to send women and children in crisis to sit alone in a motel room. We all want a better option. At the moment, however, there are almost no other options.”

One of the biggest challenges Safe Steps faces is meeting the demand for services and finding enough suitable emergency accommodation for the women and children who seek its support.

We believe there is a great opportunity to provide better refuge accommodation to families, outside motels, but we need the support of the community

“We believe there is a great opportunity to provide better refuge accommodation to families, outside motels, but we need the support of the community and investment to make this a reality,” explains Dr Tobin.

Safe Steps has plans to develop a series of supported accommodations where it will be able to provide 24/7 care and support to domestic violence survivors.

Building funds with Australian Communities Foundation

The lack of appropriate accommodation was a contributing factor in Safe Steps’ decision to open a Future Fund with Australian Communities Foundation (ACF), Dr Tobin says, with the not-for-profit looking to build an endowment to increase accommodation capacity further down the line.

“We saw the great work ACF was doing and felt comfortable placing our funds with the Foundation.

“Our relationship with the Foundation over recent times has been to support our organisation build funds.

“However, we’re also very excited to work closely with ACF to reach organisations that are interested in supporting us to help even more families dealing with violence, and, in particular, refugees.”

The work we do at Safe Steps ensures more people can leave behind violence, be respected, and live safely

While building an endowment will assist in securing more accommodation, funds will also be used to support women and children as they rebuild and recover after leaving a violent home.

“Being subjected to violence and abuse has long-term consequences,” explains Dr Tobin.

“Once we get women and children out of their violent situations, we then continue working with them in a case management capacity to assist them with services and connections to remain safe.

“This is the role of crisis response – not temporary respite, but a managed plan for recovery. The ongoing social and economic costs of this are immeasurable.”

Making a positive impact

Dr Tobin admits that while some days at Safe Steps are challenging, she chooses to focus on the positive difference the organisation is making and the wonderful people she’s met along the way.

“I am incredibly fortunate to witness the remarkably courageous and brave women who have experienced and managed family violence, in some cases for years, and are seeking a way out of this life.

“The work we do at Safe Steps ensures more people can leave behind violence, be respected, and live safely – and to me, there is no more important work than this.”

Safe Steps has a Future Fund with Australian Communities Foundation. To support Safe Steps, click here.