On the blog: Working to protect victims of family violence

Sue Smith

Sue Smith is the acting Superintendent of Judicial and Family Violence Operations in ACT. In this role she is responsible for 93 staff. The portfolio looks after a wide range of functions including Service and Process, Victims of Crime, the ACT Firearms Registry, the Watch House, Information Access, the Coronial Team and The Family Violence Coordination Unit.

Since joining the AFP in 1989, she has performed both community and national policing roles. She has recently returned from a deployment to Christmas Island where she spent two and a half years with three of her four children. During this period she lived and worked within a culturally diverse community.


In 1992 Sue took up a position within the ACT Police Juvenile Aid Bureau. This unit was responsible for managing young offenders, young people who were victims of crime and young people who were engaging in ‘at risk’ behaviour.  It was during this period she developed a passion for working with young people and their families, and has spent most of her police career involved in this type of work.

Sue has been involved in several committees including the ACT Family Violence Intervention Program, The Domestic Violence Prevention Council, The ACT Children and Young Persons Death Review Committee.

 

When I joined the AFP over 30 years ago, I had very little idea of what I would be doing, or indeed what I wanted to do.  I had originally applied to be a Federal Agent but the selection panel decided that I would be ‘better suited’ to ACT community policing, so after Recruit Training, I commenced my career in General Duties at City Police Station, and two years later I was working in the Juvenile Aid Bureau with young people and families.

This was when I developed an understanding and a love of community policing, and for the first time experienced the real benefits of working with partner agencies and the community to help develop and implement solutions that addressed the specific needs of victims, families and offenders.  It seemed like a much better idea to prevent risky behaviours or crimes before they happened, rather than responding to them once they occurred.

During my time in the Juvenile Aid Bureau I spent many shifts sitting in freezing cold bus shelters, youth refuges and on ovals talking with young people. I wanted to know why many of them didn’t want to go home, and why they continuously put themselves in ‘at risk’ situations and got in trouble.

I listened to their stories and learnt that some were victims of family violence, sexual assault and neglect, some suffered from mental health issues or drug and alcohol addictions that were not understood making home a stressful and unhappy place to be, others were just bored.

I quickly realised that many of these young people faced complex social issues and behaving badly and committing crime was one way of being heard. Over the years I worked alongside committed police members and fantastic people from government departments, community organisations, parents and volunteers who were willing to be called out at any hour of the day or night to help young people, regardless of whether they were victims or perpetrators of crime.

I have also been blessed to work with resilient young people whose trust and bravery saw them overcome hardship and obstacles to move forward in their lives to achieve amazing things.

In my current role as Officer In Charge of Family Violence, I see the devastating effects of this horrific crime on victims, their children, families, my colleagues and our community, but again ACT Policing is fortunate to have strong partnerships and working relationships across the public and community sector, enabling us to work together to increase victim safety and offender accountability and rehabilitation options.

The insidious and complex nature of family violence compels our members to assess risk to the victim in every family violence matter.  In some cases, overt police checking can provide reassurance to the victim and act as a deterrent to perpetrators and in other cases our presence increases the safety risk to our victim (and their children).

Adding to the complexity of family violence is the current COVID-19 environment. The Family Violence Coordination Unit remains operational and is committed to continuing its work with those at risk from family violence.

For some, being at home during COVID-19 may not be the safest place. ACT Policing together with our partners are committed to victim safety, including safety planning. We are working with our partners to ensure that victims have access to advice, help and support throughout these extraordinary times

This is a time for everyone in the community to regularly check on friends and loved ones who may be experiencing high levels of stress.  Make time to have a video coffee or meet up for exercise. When people are reducing the amount of time away from home, we need to ensure our most vulnerable are being heard.

I’d also like to encourage the community to contact police if they have concerns for their neighbours’ safety regardless of the circumstances.

Our community are the eyes and ears of Canberra, and we rely on family, friends, neighbours and colleagues of victims of family violence to be courageous and report when you feel something may be wrong, quite often the right early intervention strategy may stop a more serious crime from occurring and perhaps even safe the life of a victim.

If you are experiencing family violence please know that we are here to help you. You do not need to stay home if you feel unsafe.

If you experience, see or hear family violence occurring call:

• Triple Zero (000) in an emergency or life threatening situation.

• Police Assistance on 131 444 if it is a non-emergency, but your require police assistance.

• Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 to report information.

The Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT crisis line (6280 0900) is also available 24/7.