As the pandemic has continued, discussion around domestic violence has increased. Awareness of the risks associated with people having to stay at home more, being away from their usual support services and networks and experiencing higher levels of pressure and anxiety is rising. This week (1-7 February 2021) is Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, when these important issues are being brought to wider public attention.
Statistics show that instances of domestic violence have risen during the pandemic too, demonstrating the importance of increasing our awareness and our support for those we know or come into contact with who may be experiencing physical abuse from a spouse, partner or family member at home.
If you are a Leader or Manager, this issue is a very important one for you, too. There are many things you can do to provide support to those in your organisation facing domestic or sexual violence at home. Above all, letting your team know that you are there to help them get help if they are facing domestic abuse is key. Ensuring you keep in touch regularly with employees, colleagues and team members whom you know, or perhaps fear, may be facing abuse.
Stay in touch
If you inadvertently lose contact with these team members, take action straight away, get in touch and – if possible – pay them a visit at home to show your support. It takes courage to put yourself out there, but as a leader, it is important to listen to your gut and sometimes take those difficult steps to help someone. If you think anyone is in immediate risk of harm, or is facing an emergency, call 999 immediately to secure rapid, professional help.
You can make a difference through raising awareness of issues around domestic and sexual violence, encouraging employees to look out for others in their team who may be facing abuse and providing signposts for them on where they can get support and advice. You could even include this in your regular wellbeing, health and safety policy and processes. Make your workplace a place of safety and sanctuary, where people can open up about any situations they may be in at home. Employee Assistance Programs are a great way to offer confidential, non-judgemental support to your employees.
Conversely, your employees or team members may also be worried about the impact their own behaviours may be having on their loved ones at this time of heightened stress and anxiety. There is never any excuse for domestic abuse, no matter what stresses you may be under and it is crucial to seek help early on, before any negative feelings escalate into anything more troubling. Make sure that your people know that support is available for those who are worried about their own behaviour too.
Understand the issue
One difficulty for a leader trying to support people experiencing domestic abuse is actually spotting when something bad is happening to someone in their team. As we know, anyone can become a victim of domestic abuse, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or background. It is not an easy topic to talk about or admit to, so people may well be trying to hide what they are going through
Understanding how to recognise domestic abuse is the first step to supporting people experiencing it first-hand. It is not always about physical violence. It can also include:
- coercive control and ‘gaslighting’
- economic abuse
- online abuse
- threats and intimidation
- emotional abuse
- sexual abuse
You may notice someone becoming withdrawn or isolated from family and friends. They could be trying to hide bruises, burns or bite marks. Generally, these can be hard to notice if they are underneath someone’s clothing, so look out for people being reluctant to take a coat off, for example, or changing the way they dress to cover up other parts of their body. Other signs of domestic abuse can include having one’s finances controlled by someone else, so perhaps someone cannot pay for lunch out with the team any more, or appears anxious about paying bills or buying food.
Someone might start missing events or being late to the office because they are not being allowed to leave the house or are being stopped from going to work. Victims can often be pressured into having sex and told that abuse is their fault, or that they are overreacting. All of these things can lead to changes in personality and mood that could raise red flags at work as well as in their private life.
Pay careful attention if someone tells you that their internet or social media use is being monitored, or that someone else is reading texts, emails or letters. When you spend time with people socially in a bigger group, you may notice them being repeatedly belittled, put down or being told they are worthless by their spouse partner or family member.
Talk it through
So, what can you do to help practically? Here are some tips to help you if you’re worried that someone might be facing domestic abuse. Let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. They might not be ready to talk, and they may dismiss you; however, offering them a listening ear and a chance to talk if they choose to can really help someone feel less alone. If someone confides in you that they’re suffering domestic abuse then you can put your coaching skills into practice. Creating a safe space for them to talk, for example, and using non-judgemental listening skills to encourage them to express as much as they feel comfortable to – asking too many probing questions may result in them clamming up.
Take care not to judge or blame the person in any way. Acknowledge that talking about experiencing abuse takes courage and strength, especially if they have been coerced into staying silent for a long time. Reassure them that nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what their abuser may have said. Give them space to express their feelings and make decisions if they want to, but be aware that they may feel frightened and confused and not ready to make a decision right there and then. That’s perfectly ok. Knowing they can talk to you may be the first step to them taking action to support themselves. Sometimes we feel the urge to make suggestions and try to fix their situation. Resist this urge; don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready – that’s their decision!
Asking open questions that allow someone to process the conversation while you are there to listen and quietly support them is a wonderful gift to give someone who needs support. You can ask if they have suffered physical harm and if they answer yes, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP. If they decide to report the assault, you can offer to support them while they go to the police. It can also be helpful to be ready to provide information on organisations that they can reach out to or get information from. If you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, you should always call 999.
How do you report domestic abuse?
If you are worried that a friend, neighbour, colleague or loved one is a victim of domestic abuse then you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.
Domestic abuse or sexual violence is a crime and should be reported to the police. They take domestic violence very seriously and will be able to help and protect you if you are in immediate risk or danger. If it is not an emergency, contact your local policing team to discuss a way forward. If you are not ready to report it to the police then there are organisations that can provide information and help. I have included a short list below of a few key numbers and online resources.Another great resource is the App “Hub of Hope”. This is regularly updated and you can pop in a postcode to find contacts local to you. More details are available at: hubofhope.co.uk
I always recommend this App to coaches and Mental Health First Aiders. Having it on your phone, available whenever you need it, can give you the confidence you need to have what could be a lifesaving conversation, knowing you can pass on helpful contacts to support someone in need.
Here are a few more contacts to make a note of:
- Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge 0808 200 0247 nationaldahelpline.org.uk
- Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) 0800 999 5428 galop.org.uk
- Live Fear Free helpline (Wales) 0808 80 10 800 livefearfree.gov.wales
- Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327 mensadviceline.org.uk
- Rape Crisis (England and Wales) 0808 802 9999 rapecrisis.org.uk
- Respect phoneline 0808 802 4040 respectphoneline.org.uk
- Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline 0800 027 1234 sdafmh.org.uk
- Scottish Women’s Aid 0131 226 6606 scottishwomensaid.org.uk
- Women’s Aid Federation (Northern Ireland) 0800 917 1414 womensaidni.org
If you are a Leader or Manager there is support for you too…
Hestia’s Everyone’s Business Advice Line is a free resource for employers. 0203 8793 695 or email Adviceline.EB@hestia.org for support, guidance, or information regarding domestic abuse and how to support employees and colleagues enduring domestic abuse.
The Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse website provides resources to support employers, including an employers’ toolkit on this link ☞ Domestic Abuse Toolkit
SafeLives provides guidance and support to professionals and those working in the domestic abuse sector, as well as additional advice for those at risk.
To find out more about training Mental Health First Aid, or establishing fantastic coaching conversational skills to support your team, contact Gayle Young on firstname.lastname@example.org.