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When Home, Work and the World are Unsafe

When faced with a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, those fortunate enough not to have experienced family and domestic violence will sometimes ask ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ The SBS drama Safe Home addresses this question.

The four-part drama fulfills its promise to explore the voiceover from the beginning of the series; ‘’There are two types of people in the world, those who think family violence would never happen to them and those who know it can happen to anyone.’’ It traces the lives of a diverse group of women whose lives are shaped by family violence both directly and as workers. Phoebe, played by Aisha Dee starts work as a communications specialist in a family violence legal centre charged with raising the profile of the agency and reversing the decision to cut funding. From this point the stories unfold.

The portrayal of women is nuanced and sensitive. Those experiencing violence include a respectable older woman and grandmother in a country town whose retired husband is beloved in the community and nasty and aggressive at home.

His standing is such that he can portray her as ‘crazy’ and when she does leave persuade her to return with contrition, flowers, and the lure of a roof over her head. In this couple the familiar cycle of domestic abuse is portrayed. Another young woman whose partner controls and publicly humiliates her has experienced violence at home before and a Chinese woman who cannot speak English is both terrorised by her husband and mother-in-law and is threatened with removal of her children both by family and the authorities.

A highlight is the portrayal of the women who provide services and the way the broader system of beliefs and community understanding shapes the lives of those for whom they work. The personal risk to those who work in this domain both physically, by those who use violence, and emotionally is clearly depicted. They are not presented as perfect or as heroes but as people who can be irritable, dismissive and make errors of judgement but whose mission to represent and protect their clients cannot be questioned.

Perhaps the only criticism is of the depiction of men. The abusers are accurately and frighteningly rendered but there is an absence of strong, compassionate, and good men. Those who are not violent are odd or helpless. There are many men both in families and organisations who oppose violence to women and work against it.

This is truly a horror film which cleverly and sympathetically holds up a mirror to us. SBS is to be commended.


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