SBS series Safe Home drags Australia’s hidden family violence crisis into the light

Aisha Dee is back on home soil in a new show exploring a widespread issue usually left out of the national conversation. Photo: SBS Australia

Aisha Dee is back on home soil in a new show exploring a widespread issue usually left out of the national conversation. Photo: SBS Australia

“It’s not trauma porn,” Aisha Dee says of her new show, Safe Home.

“It’s not about traumatising its audience.

“It’s really about challenging and holding its audience, and giving voice to the people and the things that kind of go unnoticed.”

Safe Home follows Dee’s character, Phoebe, as she leaves her job at a prominent law firm to work at a family-violence legal centre.

Set mostly in Melbourne, the four-episode mini-series highlights the growing issue of family violence in Australia, and the many forms it takes.

The themes explored in Safe Home are more relevant than ever; an estimated 20 per cent of Australians aged 18 years and over have experienced violence (physical and/or sexual) by an intimate partner or family member since the age of 15, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

That statistic encompasses 2.7 million women and 1.1 million men.

Pandemic pressures and lockdowns led to soaring family violence rates, with more than 40 per cent of women reporting physical, sexual and emotional abuse had increased in between 2020 and 2021. Many women also experienced violence for the first time during this period.

“[Safe Home’s] themes are really important to me … because I have lived experience, and I also have a lot of loved ones that have experienced family violence,” Dee told TND.

“And I’ve never seen a show that explored it in this specific way, to where it wasn’t about the gratuitous violence, it was about the quiet moments that kind of live in the shadows a little bit more.”

The first episode showcases the story of an older couple (portrayed by Janet Andrewartha and Mark Mitchinson) in a close-knit country town.

The doting husband never seems to lose his temper – except he does. Just not in the overt displays of physical or verbal rage we usually picture when thinking about family violence.

The abuse is subtle, public but no less terrifying; it’s in a cancelled credit card, a locked door and a concerned call to the boss, in-between soft apologies and promises to do better.

The audience is left feeling a tension that builds and builds but never breaks, providing a sliver of an idea of what a family abuse victim might experience every day.

Elsewhere in the episode, Phoebe’s introduction to the family violence legal system drives home the point that an abuser doesn’t always look, talk or act a certain way, often making them hard to spot until it’s too late.

Violence is a largely invisible but imposing presence throughout Safe HomePhoto: SBS

In her efforts to prepare for the role, Dee was lucky to observe and rely on the experiences of the show’s creator, Anna Barnes.

Safe Home was inspired by Barnes’ time working at community legal centres in Melbourne, although at a post-screening Q&A on Monday, Barnes insisted Phoebe wasn’t based on herself.

But she admitted scenes depicting Phoebe trying to get stories of family violence out in the media came from her own experiences trying to pitch stories to journalist friends.

As seen in the show, tales of family violence often don’t make headlines until there’s a death.

Barnes said while those tragedies are terrifying and upsetting, they only form one part of a wider story that flies under the radar.

Safe Home aims to address the gap by providing a broader view of the different forms family violence can take.

“I hope that it challenges people to look more deeply at themselves and their relationships, and also, I hope that it encourages some empathy,” Dee said.

“Because there are no perfect victims or perfect perpetrators to where we can just make sense of these things.

“We’ve seen statistics, and it’s so easy to just say the numbers over and over again and forget that there’s actual people and really complicated, [complete and full] stories and lives at the centre of these numbers.”

Safe Home explores dark themes, but takes a cue from Australian culture and still leaves room for a chuckle. Photo: SBS Australia

How Safe Home tackled a taboo subject

Dee said she understands why audiences might be reluctant to watch a show with such dark themes, especially coming out of the doom and gloom of the global pandemic and amidst the rising cost of living.

The actor herself was initially reluctant to take on the role when it was pitched to her, unwilling to spend months in the dark headspace she felt would be necessary to do justice to the story.

But the script surprised her, including a thriller element through a murder-mystery arc to keep audiences engaged and coming back for more, along with a distinctly Australian sense of dark humour.

“There’s this dark humour really at the centre of it, which I think is a big part of the fabric of Australian culture; we use humour to deflect a lot from our emotions and from the things that really affect us the most,” Dee said.

She hopes the show will create more awareness of family violence, and motivate people to ask more questions.

“When we look at the statistics, unfortunately [family violence] is really widespread, especially in Australia, and I just think sometimes it’s hard to accept that the perpetrators of these acts of violence are all around us.

“It’s much easier to just kind of pretend that it’s not happening, and it’s easier for us to just gaslight ourselves into thinking that everything is fine.”

Family drives Aisha Dee’s homecoming

Safe Home marks Dee’s second Australian project to be released in two years, following her starring role in the 2022 horror-thriller, Sissy.

The actor’s move back home may come as a surprise after her successful run in the US, where she lived for more than a decade; her popular series The Bold Type made its final bow after five seasons in 2021, the same year Dee filmed the 2022 Netflix movie Look Both Ways.

While Dee said she was eager to get involved in the Australian film industry, which she hailed for its “innovative filmmakers” and the “best crews”, her reason for returning was largely personal.

“I have a 14-year-old sister … I want to have the kind of relationship with my little sister where we know each other, and I don’t want to miss her growing up. She’s such an important person to me,” she said.

“So it’s a win-win.”

Safe Home is available to watch on SBS and SBS On Demand.


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