Change for Sam safety alarms distributed through Salvation Army to help prevent family violence

Lija Matthews' world changed when her best friend was murdered by her estranged husband at her Phillip Island home in 2018.

Sam Fraser had driven into her garage in Cowes after dropping her three children at school, when Adrian James Basham brutally bashed and murdered her.

He then staged the killing as a suicide, tying a noose around her neck and hanging her inside the garage of the home they once shared.

The Supreme Court of Victoria ordered Basham to spend at least 30 years behind bars but the pain for her loved ones and friends remains raw.

"The reality hits that I don't have my best friend here anymore … It's hard. It's really hard," Ms Matthews said.

"I don't understand. If you're in a relationship and you want to break up, you should be able to just break up and leave."

Basham murdered Ms Fraser a week before she was due to give evidence against him on a charge of raping her during their marriage.

But it was not an isolated case, with about 60 per cent of adult female victims of homicide in Australia killed by their current or former intimate party, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology's National Homicide Monitoring Program.

Personal alarms for victims

Ms Matthews hopes to reduce this statistic by providing family violence victims with personal alarms called Safety Pendants, which can be worn and activated with the press of a button when abuse occurs.

The pendant alerts a security company, which can then listen in through the device and alert emergency services.

Through her organisation, Change for Sam, she is supplying the Salvation Army with pendants funded by donations.

"When I was thinking of what could possibly help other people in the same situation as Sam, I kept coming back to how incredible would it have been if she had an alarm that caught everything on tape," Ms Matthews said.

"At least we would have known that Adrian Basham was there and what he was saying and the threats that he was using, and we wouldn't have had to wait so long for a court ruling."

Salvation Army Practice and Development senior manager Marcus Tawfik said the pendants would promote the ongoing safety of women and children who accessed their services.

"For victim survivors, the pendants are a tool that empowers them to take control of their safety and wellbeing," he said.

Ms Matthews said the alarm should help to alleviate the fear and anxiety associated with leaving a family violence environment.

One in three recorded murders last year were related to family and domestic violence, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

"They're more aimed at people that have left toxic relationships, who are scared to walk the dog because they think they're being followed," Ms Matthews said.

"They're scared to take their kids to school. They're scared to leave the confines of their home without anyone around them.

"I'm hoping they'll work twofold, so they'll also act as a deterrent to perpetrators, flip the fear back onto them."

Police response accelerated

Paul Bruders was the Victoria Police Bass Coast local area commander at the time of Ms Fraser's death and said an alarm could have given her an opportunity to contact police.

"That would have activated the police to come to that address right from the start," he said.

"Police respond to these types of duress alarm notifications from the monitoring companies as a priority job, so there's a potential or an opportunity for police to get notified very quickly of an incident, whereas that might not happen in the normal circumstances."

Mr Bruders said the recordings from the alarm could help to accelerate the court process for families of domestic violence victims seeking justice.

"The ability to listen in to the conversation, any conversation or any actions that they hear, would be evidence in court of what they heard," he said.

"So that person will become a witness to any court proceedings, which will obviously add weight … it could be anything said or done that could provide evidence."

More support needed

But while she believed the alarms were beneficial, a researcher said more needed to be done to help victims remain safe after a family violence episode.

La Trobe University Judith Lumley Centre postdoctoral research fellow Dr Jessica Ison said women and children were especially vulnerable.

"They often won't have safe housing for family violence. It's one of the leading contributors to homelessness," she said.

Dr Ison said family violence often involved coercive control, which required alternative responses.

"It's around degrading a woman's sense of self, it's financial control, it's abusing the children to harm them and to harm her," she said.

"Just how we, as a society think about it, we need to be thinking also about all of the elements of family violence."

But when it came to physical violence, Ms Matthews hoped she could prevent at least one woman, like Ms Fraser, from being murdered.

"I wasn't able to save Sam or protect Sam and I wish I could have," she said.

"So now I vowed that I will try and help someone else's Sam.

"But I know that whoever is the recipient of these alarms is special to someone else and that's enough for me, because I wouldn't want anyone else to have to go through what we've gone through."
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