Domestic abuse is everyone’s business because even just ‘one’ perpetrator abusing one partner, who may have children, who may work, this then affects everyone that person is connected to. It becomes a ripple effect that seeps out into the extended family and friends, it impacts into the community, into the children’s school, affects their ability to learn, to make friends and eventually establish healthy relationships themselves. It follows a person into the workplace and impacts on colleagues and the business they work for. The impact is huge as currently 2.4m people are affected by domestic abuse every year, equating to 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men (ONS). This is not the fault of the victim, it is the level of power and control that just ‘one’ perpetrator has over their partner and how that behaviour can insinuate into society. The perpetrator can do this as they are relying on us not knowing what they’re doing, not acting and not talking about it. Society has been under an unspoken rule of not talking about it for too long. A perpetrator tactic is to keep this a secret and to use threats to do so as secrecy protects the perpetrator. By raising awareness and making domestic abuse everyone’s business, we are making a difference.
This year, due to the pandemic and lockdown measures, national and local domestic abuse organisations have reported a huge increase in calls to helplines and need for domestic abuse support. This increase has contributed towards a greater awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse, which has shocked the nation – but not those who work within the field of domestic abuse. Sadly, we are already aware of the ‘shadow pandemic’ that happens behind closed doors. What we need now is to involve everyone in understanding domestic abuse and educate the public on how to reach out and help our friend, family member or work colleague who may be trapped within an abusive relationship.
This includes employers who are key in spotting the signs of domestic abuse but don’t know how to appropriately support their employees. A recent report states that 86% of employers agree to having a duty of care for employees experiencing domestic abuse but sadly fewer than 1 in 3 victims of abuse disclose at work (PHE). For the employee, the workplace can offer an escape but due to the pandemic and lockdown many employees have had to work from home, which has increased the risk of suffering domestic abuse.
As an employer, what can you do to support your employee? The three main actions are: Recognise, Respond and Refer
RECOGNISE – the signs in the workplace
- A noticeable change in behaviour/appearance
- A gut feeling that something is not right
- Work times change i.e. arriving too early or being late
- A reluctance to leave work
- Suffering from anxiety/panic attacks
- Constant phone calls/text messages/emails at work
- A lack of money for lunch or travel
- Lack of productivity/missing deadlines
- Increased absences from work
- Increased appointments to attend
- Partner contacts colleagues to find out information
RECOGNISE – the signs working from home
- Lack of productivity
- Nervous, increased anxiety
- Reluctant to talk and generally not being themselves
- Unexplained sickness
- Not attending Zoom meetings or answering calls
Perpetrators will use coercive controlling tactics to prevent their partner from working from home, by insisting they take on the childcare, housekeeping and/or home teaching duties. There have been increased reports of coercive control and financial abuse since lockdown began. Perpetrators have even used Covid lockdown measures as a form of coercive control.
- Keep in touch regularly – introduce code words when making contact
- Ask after their well-being, giving them the opportunity to disclose
- Always assume the perpetrator is in the room with them, listening to the conversation or zoom meeting
- Keep the communication generic
- Provide the opportunity for the employee to disclose
- Believe what is said
- Be non-judgemental
- Engage with training on understanding domestic abuse
There is a need for employers to identify the barriers to disclosing in their workplace – which often means changing the workplace culture. How can you communicate to your employees that your company is sympathetic to those who may suffering abuse?
Implement a domestic abuse policy or incorporate domestic abuse into existing policies. In this way staff learn that the company is sympathetic to domestic abuse disclosures, which encourages trust and disclosure and supports culture change within a workplace. Within these policies or a generic email highlight the changes to policies and include the instructions on how to download Hestia’s Bright Sky app.
REFER – To national and local domestic abuse support services – you can download a pdf from my website www.safespaceconsultancy.org
Many firms are now leading the way to provide paid leave for staff, provision of emergency accommodation and financial support. Large national retail businesses such as Boots and Superdrug are opening up their ‘Safe Spaces’ consultation rooms to support victims of domestic abuse. A new code word scheme is being rolled out to supermarkets and high street retailers through the UK Says NO More campaign. National and regional rail companies are offering free fares for individuals and families travelling to safe houses and refuges.
Whilst all of this is excellent news, it is not just the large national organisations that need to be prepared to recognise domestic abuse and support their staff, this has to happen at every level, through local businesses as well if we are to really make a stand against ending domestic abuse.