I believe that every person has the right to feel safe and to live a life free from violence. That’s the reason I do what I do. If I can make a positive impact in someone’s life, then that’s one less person living in fear and my work is making a difference.
Leeann Smith began her career over 26 years ago in the New South Wales Police Force in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Since 2009, she has been serving as the Domestic Violence Liaison Officer at Botany Bay Local Area Command. Her role is a specialist position that was created to effectively and consistently manage the large volume of domestic violence (DV) cases that arise each year, and to ensure that in each case the victim’s safety is given highest priority. DV is a crime that takes on many forms including emotional, physical, psychological and financial abuse, including intimidation, harassment, stalking and sexual assault. It is the most under-reported crime because the perpetrator usually knows the victim intimately through a long-term relationship, past or still developing. In general, DV is considered to be a gendered crime as the majority of reported victims are female. This is true of the cases that Leanne has handled.
After a woman has made the initial DV complaint, Leeann assesses the risk of danger and, when necessary, ensures that an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) is requested. An AVO is a preventative measure designed to protect the victim. Depending on the type of incident that has occurred, it can restrict the perpetrator from further assaulting, harassing or even making contact with the victim, moving him out of the home and creating a safer environment for her and any children involved. A Magistrate will grant an AVO if, on the balance of probabilities, the victim is fearful for her safety and there is evidence to suggest that a domestic violence incident has already occurred, or is likely to occur, or there is a threat of violence, intimidation, stalking or abuse. The AVO also gives police the power to arrest the perpetrator if there are any breaches of the Order.
After removing the immediate threat of danger, Leeann supports and guides the protected person through the next steps, including the legal processes and social service referrals, attempting to minimise any further trauma. Often this is the first experience the person has with the court system and the situation can feel intimidating, increasing the likelihood that the complaint will be withdrawn. Leeann supports her, guiding her through practice sessions with a prosecutor, so that when the final court session takes place, she has the confidence to persevere and to let justice be served. Victims of DV show real courage in reporting the crimes committed against them. By supporting and guiding these people through the legal processes, Leeann ensures that the safety and wellbeing of any victim of DV is given first priority.
Over the years she has served as a police officer, Leeann has witnessed a dramatic shift in police responses to DV. Decades ago, reports of DV were attended to but not necessarily actioned, unless the situation appeared gravely serious. DV was considered a private situation that was best handled in the home, not the gendered crime that it is today. Recognising the need to be proactive, the NSW Police improved the way they respond to DV, reassuring the community that any complaint will be fully investigated and that no one should live in fear of violence in their own home. Once a DV victim takes that vital initial step of contacting the police, Leeann and her colleagues ensure that she receives the full support and protection that the NSW police can provide.
*Call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 to contact your local specialist Domestic Violence Liaison Officer. Always call Triple Zero (000) to report domestic violence if you have fears for your own, or somebody else’s, immediate safety. For other assistance you can contact the DV Line on 1800 65 64 63 (24/7) or the TeleTypewriter service on 1800 67 14 42. You can also visit any police station, not necessarily your local station, and speak to a police officer.