Life-Changing Tech: ‘Safety at the touch of a button for DV victim-survivors.’

As women, we’ve often been taught from a young age to be aware of our surroundings, to not walk alone late at night and to learn to defend ourselves, but what happens when the risk of violence comes from your own home?

Gender-based violence is still a critical national issue, with one woman dying at the hands of their partner every 10 days. We speak to Friends With Dignity’s Melissa van der Burgt, who leads the National FriendSafe program, about the new safety wearable that offers a lifeline to individuals from all walks of life at risk of domestic violence across Australia.

Can you share how this program came to life? 

The FriendSafe Program was developed throughout 2020, when the CEO of Friends With Dignity wanted to launch a new practical program that would actively support someone impacted by DFV and currently at risk, bringing them safety and security at a touch of a button.  

Friends with Dignity already had a number of other programs supporting survivors to get back on their feet through its Sanctuary Program, and supporting children who would otherwise miss out on extra curricular activities through the Scholarship program.  

The FriendSafe program was about giving back the ability to get help when most needed in a discreet and safe way. 

I have seen an ever-increasing need for programs like this which is heartbreaking. The real life stories I hear every day are becoming so unbelievably desperate and I can’t see things improving any time soon. With the current cost of living pressures, the rental crisis and post covid mental health challenges, the services Friends with Dignity provide the community are in high demand. 

How do the FriendSafe tech aids work?

The FriendSafe Personal safety devices leverage mobile phone technology and reliable 24/7 monitoring support team. The DFV survivor and their DV support Worker will develop a Safety Plan that is personal to their situation. As part of this Safety Plan, the Support Worker will assess if a FriendSafe Personal safety device could be a useful tool in their safety toolkit. If so, the Support Worker will apply under our sponsorship program where a FriendSafe device and a full 12 months of monitoring will be provided to the at risk individual at no cost to them or to the referring agency. 

A comprehensive Safety Plan is attached to the device and should the client require immediate discreet assistance, they just need to push and hold a button on the device for 3 seconds. This will trigger a response from the 24/7 monitoring centre ensuring no call for help goes unanswered. The monitoring centre will have access to information that can support emergency services in triaging the call appropriately (for example, information around DVOs in place, whether children could be present, whether there is a history of weapons use), and they will be able to listen in on the device to gauge how risky the current situation is – they will also be able to pass on GPS locations to the responding emergency service team. 

Being able to press a button to receive help, rather than picking up a phone to call for help, can ensure the at-risk person is not put in any escalated danger, and allows them access to emergency support when they have no access to a phone. 

Can you share a little more about the kinds of people who will utilise these devices?

We currently have FriendSafe devices in almost every state and territory in Australia. We support people from a very large range of nationalities, ages, genders and this makes the program so accessible to all, regardless of their specific situation. Our youngest device wearer is 10 years old, and our oldest is well into her 60s. We provide safety from current partners, ex-partners, family members – the list goes on.  

 How can someone access a device? 

Anyone being supported by a DV Support Agency or Worker can access this program via our sponsorship option – this is where you would work with your Support Worker to ensure this device is best for your situation. Accessing the program in this way will mean we will loan a device and cover the cost of 12 months of 24/7 monitoring to help give back some safety and security. 

If you are looking to purchase a device outright from us, we can also support you in this while helping you work through how this device could support you in your personal situation. 

Running this program does not come cheap and in many cases people impacted by DFV do not have the means to cover the costs of this type of thing. At Friends with Dignity, we don’t see safety and security as a luxury, we see it as a necessity which is why we do our best to fund as many of these devices as we can at no cost to the survivor. If you would like to help us via corporate or personal donations, please do reach out to us at [email protected]  

Do you think we’re likely to see more tech innovation coming about in the personal safety space?

There is absolutely research being conducted in this space. As much of this technology relies on mobile service, it can be very limiting to those in remote areas, so this is a problem that still needs solving. There is also the concern that the safety devices really need to be easily concealed. The smaller the technology is, the easier it is to hide in things such as necklaces, rings or bracelets. The current size of device required for this technology, I think, is still a little chunky. 

 

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