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At times devastating, always powerful: new SBS drama Safe Home looks at domestic violence with nuance, integrity and care


Phoebe Rook (Aisha Dee) is a twenty-something who begins working as a communications specialist for the Family Violence Legal Service, a state-wide community center that provides free legal aid to people fleeing domestic and family violence in Victoria.

The task of raising awareness of the center amid rumors of budget cuts soon finds itself confronted with its own assumptions about the policies and services used to protect victim survivors.

While following spiky attorney Jenny (Mabel Li) to the magistrate’s office on her first day, Phoebe reads through a list of intervention orders.

“These people should be in jail!” she exclaims.

“Because prison has always worked so well at stopping violent behavior,” Jenny responds dryly.

The Center’s work to advocate for vulnerable people trapped in cycles of abuse is urgent and essential. But as Phoebe settles into this new role, her complex past haunts her.

As Phoebe’s complicated relationships threaten to challenge her ethics, a series of harrowing events testify to how violence is insidious and ingrained in systemic power structures.

Veilig Thuis, a new television series from SBS, is compelling, at times devastating, but always powerful in its dedication to articulating difficult truths about domestic and family violence with nuance, integrity and care.

Domestic and family violence in Australia

Safe at Home offers an important critique of the assumptions and expectations that influence the public understanding of domestic and family violence.

These abuses persist at endemic levels in Australia. On average, a woman is murdered by an intimate partner every ten days. That is estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics one in three women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. These percentages are even higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women from marginalized groups.

While the Australian government recently introduced a National plan to end violence against women and childrenexperts have highlighted the significant long-term funding needed to meet the goal of ending violence against women “in one generation”.

Read more: A new national plan aims to end violence against women and children ‘in one generation’. Can it work?

Telling crisis stories

Veilig Thuis makes a timely contribution to a growing number of television programs that tackle socio-political crises by telling unflinchingly honest stories.

The BBC’s adaptation of NHS doctor Adam Kay’s memoir This is going to hurt deals with the experiences of junior doctors enduring high levels of fatigue and mental health problems amid a lack of resources and compensation for the difficult and necessary work they do.

Based on the memoir of Stephanie Land, the Netflix limited series Domestic help is about a young mother who flees an abusive relationship, takes up a job cleaning houses and critiques the class and economic structures that enforce social exclusion and poverty.

Safe Home is inspired by creator Anna Barnes’ experience working in Melbourne legal community centres. The show depicts domestic and family violence with sensitivity and awareness. It is particularly authentic in its depiction of victim-survivors who must navigate an extraordinarily complex and overloaded system.

Safe Home is inspired by creator Anna Barnes’ experience working in legal community centers.

As Jenny explains to Phoebe, looming federal budget cuts threaten to cut one-fifth of the Family Violence Department’s budget—the equivalent of four lawyers. This would force the center to refuse walk-ins and limit their ability to manage the number of cases they receive.

Against the backdrop of these precarious circumstances, Veilig Thuis deftly weaves victim-survivor stories to highlight the industry’s blind spots, inequities and failures in providing adequate and urgent intervention.

Diana (Janet Andrewartha) struggles to leave her controlling husband Jon (Mark Mitchinson), a retired teacher highly regarded in their small town.

Ry (Tegan Stimson) finds herself in an unstable intimate relationship after escaping verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her mother at home.

In perhaps the most heartbreaking story, Cherry (Katlyn Wong) is at risk of losing her children after reporting her husband’s life-threatening violence to authorities due to a language barrier.

Read more: New data shows 1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence and sexual assault remains stubbornly persistent

The personal becomes political

In these stories, the cultural, linguistic and economic diversity of victim-survivors seeking help is powerfully portrayed.

We encounter the specter of strategies used against victim survivors: physical abuse, economic abuse, verbal threats and humiliation, control and coercion, love bombing, and revenge porn.

Two young women, one white and one black, in a waiting room.
The diversity of victim-surviving relatives seeking help is powerfully portrayed.

We are confronted with perpetrators who circumvent common stereotypes in order to come across as sympathetic, kind, charming and sympathetic at first glance.

The situations faced by victim survivors intersect and are exacerbated by the current housing, homelessness and cost of living crises. These circumstances may force them to return or stay in dangerous situations.

Contrary to the title of the show, home is not safe for people experiencing domestic and family violence. But for many, it is better than being homeless, losing access to their children, becoming susceptible to other forms of violence.

Storytelling is critical to humanizing people, to generate empathy, to raise awareness of issues that are often shrouded in silence. As Phoebe puts it, “We tell stories to change minds, to change laws, and most importantly, to change behavior.”

In Safe Home, the personal becomes political. The stories behind the case numbers are in dialogue with the current crisis of domestic and family violence.

These are stories well known to victim survivors and those advocating on their behalf, but the Australian public still struggles to understand.

As of today, Veilig Thuis is available on SBS and SBS On Demand.

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