‘Freedom is found in connection’, a new solution to tackle domestic abuse

Written by the StandbyU Foundation, a guest contributor


“I felt broken, lost confidence, and it took a long time for me to recognise what was happening wasn’t ok. I used to keep everything to myself, couldn’t talk to anybody about [it].”

Knowing whether a toxic relationship might escalate, and if, or how, to leave is rarely as straightforward as it seems. The impact of coercive control means we can be left feeling isolated and trapped, with the end of the relationship no guarantee of freedom.

As we look to the Government and services for answers, a study has found that the solution is already in the hands of every Australian (or at least, it could be soon).

Funded by the Department of Social Services, the study tracked the impact of a new solution, called the StandbyU Shield, on the safety and wellbeing of 100 families impacted by domestic abuse.

The StandbyU Shield brings friends and family together into support networks and provides smart watches to keep them connected at critical moments. It means help from people who care is always only a push of a button away.

The results of the study were overwhelmingly positive, with 93% of women agreeing it significantly improved their safety and all saying it significantly increased their wellbeing.

Chris Boyle, Founder of StandbyU, the charity behind the solution, explains, “What I’ve learnt from 25 years working with impacted families is that real, lasting freedom is found in connection. When we feel connected to people who care, we feel safer and more confident to overcome the fears and threats that confront us.”

If you, or someone you know, is feeling isolated or concerned, and you believe a StandbyU Shield could help, you can contact the charity here.

As one woman explained, “Having the watch has given me lots of strength. I know that there is somebody else there, it gives me a little bit more strength to say I am safe, I am leaving, I am getting out of here…”


Putting control in your hands

A key discovery of the study is the importance of putting safety in the hands of the impacted family, acting as a ‘circuit breaker’ to the abuser’s control.

The nature of abuse is often highly personal and not always obvious, with a key tactic of the abuser being an apparently calm and charming public face. This can leave women and children feeling powerless, as they question whether they will be believed when they do reach out for help.

As one woman explained, “He even said to me like in the past [when I said] I am going to call the police, he says ‘go ahead and no one will listen to you, they are not going to believe you.’”

With the smart watch’s discreet recording function, women and children felt more confident to share their experiences, knowing others would be able to understand what they’re going through. It also gave them the evidence to take further action, if needed.

One woman shared, “I feel empowered. It is sort of getting my life back” and a member of the support team said, “To see the look on children’s faces, the way that they respond when they know that they are being heard and believed, is just mind blowing.”


A life changing solution

The impact of abuse is often felt long into the future. It’s common for families to continue to live in fear and remain isolated in their homes. Then there’s the emotional and psychological impact of abusive and manipulative behaviour, which can erode our confidence and self-worth.

The way to overcome these challenges, the study shows, is by building stronger connections between friends and family. As one woman explained, “I definitely feel that it has made us all closer because it has made us talk about [it] and work out what is going to happen.”

Another said, “My family has come in like a strong support for me. Now they understand what we have gone through.”

With these close connections - and the reassurance that help is readily available - women and children reported real, lasting changes in themselves and their family’s lives.

Here’s a snapshot of what they had to say.

“I feel it makes me feel safer and less anxious, because I know that if I press the button then somebody can hear what is happening or can see where my last location is so I feel less anxious because I know that somebody will send help.”

“It just gives me my freedom back to freely choose what I want to do, where I want to go.”

“We have been able to do things that need to be done without completely feeling vulnerable and unsafe [like going to the supermarket]”

“My 8-year-old has learnt to swim, ride a bike, she [is] not scared, [and is] eating food now… she is happier... It has given us more freedom, and it has given us more safety out.”


Empowering friends and family

Friends and family are often left feeling powerless and unsure how to help loved ones in need. With the StandbyU Shield, they have a real, tangible way to help keep them safe.

As a family member explained, “For her, it is her personal safety, and for me that peace of mind that I know she could contact me if she needs.”

Another woman said, “My partner feels much safer for me because I have got that little bit of relief about, you know, I can breathe a little bit better.”


Changing the behaviour of abusers

The ability to record and expose the abusive partner’s behaviour can also cause them to reconsider what they’re doing and help prevent escalations and serious incidents.