Why Domestic Abuse Is Everyone’s Business

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.

Employer Awareness: Understanding Economic Abuse

2019 has seen the introduction of the new draft Domestic Abuse Bill and with its inclusion in the Queens Speech this year, has now received its second hearing to pass through parliament. As part of the new Bill, Economic Abuse will be included within the legal definition.

What is Economic Abuse and why is it different to Financial Abuse?
The legal definition of Economic Abuse as described by the Home Office is: economic abuse involves behaviours that interfere with an individual’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources such as money, transportation and utilities.” Economic abuse has a much broader and often longer-term financial impact on a victim of abuse, often for many years after leaving the relationship.

The largest study of economical abuse to date has been carried out by Sharp-Jeffs with the Co-operative Bank and Refuge which found

  • One in five people in the UK have experienced financial abuse in an intimate relationship
  • 60% of all cases are reported by women
  • 78% of women saying their abuse went on over five years compared to 23% of men
  • For women, financial abuse rarely happens in isolation – 86% experience other forms of abuse
  • A third of financial abuse victims suffer in silence, telling no-one

Financial abuse includes a perpetrator taking control of bank accounts and ensuring their partner has no access, giving their partner just a small token amount of money each week for housekeeping, children’s clothes, toiletries etc. but never enough to fully cover these expenses. The perpetrator will often display double standards by going out and socialising regularly and embark on lavish spending sprees (on themselves), neglecting the family’s needs whilst doing so.  Economic abuse goes much further than this, such as taking out loans, mortgages, household bills in their partner’s name, making financial decisions alone and keeping financial information secret.  More than this a perpetrator will use ‘interference tactics’ to prevent their partner from going to work (or places of study) or giving up their job altogether.  The purpose of this behaviour is to entrap and isolate the victim as soon as possible so they become solely and financially dependent on the abusive partner.

Economic abuse is often the first sign of Coercive Control  within a relationship.  A perpetrator knows if you restrict and then take away access to money and financial independence from their partner, they quickly become dis-empowered, have less choices and opportunities to leave the abusive relationship.

Economic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, culture, social or employment circumstances and when it happens can have a long-lasting devastating impact on the victim of abuse.  Even if a person can leave the relationship, they will likely have a mountain of debts often in the region of thousands of pounds all under their name (which the perpetrator has ensured), a destroyed credit history and having to start again from nothing.  This situation is soul destroying and often takes many years to recover from.  With the introduction of Economic Abuse into the new Bill, at last this situation is beginning to be understood and sources of support for victims being identified.

How can you, as an employer, identify if a staff member needs support in this area?  Firstly, how can you encourage your staff to disclose if they are experiencing financial difficulties? After all, money is often a hidden subject and rarely spoken about.  Identify the barriers to disclosing within your organisation then take steps to remove these barriers.  Show your staff you are sympathetic towards these issues and can support them by providing practical support such as helping them to set up an escape fund.

Signs of an employee experiencing financial or economic abuse:-

  • Often doesn’t have lunch or travel money
  • No longer joins in on social events at or after work
  • Not having debit or credit cards, cannot access their bank accounts
  • Unable to explain their lack of access to money
  • Changes in appearance
  • Becoming withdrawn or seeming depressed or anxious

By engaging with awareness and training on the Impact of Domestic Abuse in the Workplace, you will have an in-depth understanding of these issues and be in a stronger position to support your staff safely and appropriately.

Further sources of support: Founder: Dr Nicola Sharps-Jeff  https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/

Employer Awareness: Why does football cause a rise in domestic violence incidences?

1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.  When these statistics are compared to how many staff you employ, as an employer you can begin to understand the prevalence of the problem and how domestic abuse can impact on an employee, their colleagues and the business.  Domestic abuse victims will suffer 35 incidences before reporting, either to the police or another professional.  Many of these incidents will have prevented an employee from attending work on time or will have led to increased absences and possibly time off to attend medical appointments.

If we are to gain greater awareness of this issue, which in my opinion is  cultural problem, we need to understand why it happens, the root causes and why the incidents rise during certain times of the year and during trigger points within a relationship.  Through awareness, education and training, employers can better support their employees by ensuring the workplace is a safe, non-judgemental environment and encourage employees who may be at risk to seek help sooner.

One trigger point is during the World Cup 2018!  Police reports have shown there is an increase in reporting domestic abuse incidents during these times and the research carried out by Lancaster University, highlights the risks: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2014/world-cup-football-is-a-risk-factor-for-domestic-violence/  You may have seen the emotive visual campaigns across social media: http://www.ncdv.org.uk/not-beautiful-game/ with the powerful statistics;  Domestic Violence and the World Cup are closely linked, with reported incidents increasing by 26% if England plays, 38% if England loses and 11% the next day, win or lose.  Do you have employees who are at risk?  How would you spot the signs? What could you do to support an employee?

I’d like to state for all you football fans out there – football is not the cause of domestic abuse incidents – the need to exert power and control over another is.  I am referring to perpetrators of abuse who use football matches as an excuse to carry out violence and abuse.  Perpetrators tend to stick together as they need this validation from each other. They encourage each other’s subversive attitudes and help to wind each other up, the alcohol contributes, which in turn encourages aggressive behaviour and they’ll feed off each other’s sexist and belittling attitudes and remarks.  So, by the time they are ready to head home, they have the validation of their ‘mates’, are tanked up on alcohol and ready for a fight – particularly if their team have lost.  “The ‘Mrs’ had it coming for a while anyway – she deserves it.”  These are the justifications that churn around inside a perpetrators head.

The World Cup is a great opportunity to raise awareness of this issue and to encourage positive role models within the football community – of which I believe Gareth Southgate is a fine example, with his dignity and composure throughout this tournament.  I am pleased to say that our own football team Bournemouth AFC has campaigned previously against domestic violence  https://www.poole.gov.uk/newsroom/safer-poole-and-afc-bournemouth-unite-against-domestic-violence/#.W0XmBtJKjIU  in support of the Women’s Aid Campaign https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/football-united/

Together we need to continue to send out the message that violence, abuse and sexism is not acceptable and not to be tolerated, either on the football pitch, in the home or in the workplace.

For further information on workplace training on the Impact of Domestic Abuse, Stalking, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace follow the links to:



How Coercive Control Can Impact in the Workplace

As an employer, how would you recognise if an employee is suffering a form of domestic abuse such as Coercive Control. The chances are you have had employees who have been experiencing this form of abuse and this has impacted them in the workplace but not been recognised, even by the employee themselves. In addition to this, some employees could be perpetrating coercive, controlling behaviour towards an intimate partner and using your workplace resources to carry out this abuse.

Many employees see their work place as a Safe Space and I am passionate about supporting businesses who care about their Corporate Social Responsibility to fully ensure this. What can your business do to send out a key message that violence and abuse will not be tolerated? For example, do you have a domestic abuse or stalking policy in place? How would you be able to support an employee?

What is Coercive Control?
It is behaviour that a perpetrator uses to control their intimate partner such as serious threats, manipulation, tracking movements, monitoring phones and other devices and isolation tactics. A more detailed definition is given on the Home Office website: https://bit.ly/2I8gQeo (page 3), along with the following quote, which sadly, is all too true;

“Not only is coercive control the most common context in which [women] are abused, it is also the most dangerous” Evan Stark (2007) Coercive Control. How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Controlling or coercive behaviour is identified as a form of violence against women and girls and is underpinned by wider societal gender inequality (Home Office website – link above, page 7).

However, Coercive Control can be perpetrated within any intimate relationship such as female towards male and in same sex relationships. This is portrayed very well in a recent collaboration organised by the High Sheriff of Dorset, Dorset Police and Bournemouth University Film students with their three highly emotive productions which can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/2pwjS0s #cutyourstrings

How is this relevant to the workplace?
Unfortunately, domestic abuse will follow a person into the workplace and impact on them, their work colleagues and ultimately the business. Coercive Control is now a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015, where two or more behaviours are identified. If similar behaviours (and/or using workplace resources) are carried out against a work colleague, these would be classed as bullying and/or harassment. Employers have a legal and moral duty towards their employees and need to be aware of the risks i.e. breach of policies such as:
• The Equality Act
• Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 & the Management of Health & Safety at Work
• Employment rights Act 1996
• Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

Having an awareness of all forms of domestic abuse can help reduce the risk of harm, not only to individuals but also to your business.

There are many ways Coercive Control can impact on an employee and in the workplace;
• Financial Abuse, lack of money for lunch, travel or work expenses
• Monitoring phones, emails, social media
• Limiting access to transport, travel to work
• Changes in behaviour/appearance
• Changing work patterns/shifts/routines
• Absent or off sick frequently
• Criminal damage to company car, laptops, phones, uniforms to prevent their partner from going to work or continuing to work

Unfortunately, this list just touches the surface and I’m sure as employers you will recognise some of these but maybe not identify it as Coercive Control. Are you aware of the barriers that may exist within your business which prevent employees from disclosing and seeking support? The risks are increased if the intimate relationship ends but the behaviour continues, which can then lead to Stalking https://bit.ly/2rdwVpf

A recent article in the Daily Echo https://bit.ly/2JPS2Vk states that more than six cases of stalking in Dorset are being reported each day, double the cases from 2015, therefore Coercive Control needs to be taken seriously by employers.

Further information can be found via www.safespaceconsultancy.org