Domestic violence may happen behind closed doors but it has far reaching consequences and is known to have an impact on the working lives of those living with an abusive partner. The scale of the problem is huge. In the UK, in any one year, more than one in five victims of domestic violence take time off work because of abuse and two per cent lose their jobs as a direct result of the abuse.
What is domestic abuse?
Examples of abuse include:
Verbal abuse – Belittling, insulting, or demeaning someone with words – alone or in front of others.
Physical violence – Any type of violence against someone such as pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, choking or using weapons.
Controlling – Attempting to restrict who someone sees or talks to. Preventing them socialising with friends or family.
‘Gaslighting’ – Persistently undermining or manipulating someone, so they doubt their own sanity or become convinced that they’re the problem.
Financial abuse – Taking control of someone’s finances to deny them money and limit their independence.
Sexual abuse – Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex when they don’t want to (rape), touching or groping, making someone watch pornography.
Online abuse – Insulting or threatening someone via social media, messaging, or email.
Other forms of violence against women and girls – For example female genital mutilation, honour-based violence, forced marriage.
Who is affected?
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, but the gender of the victim and of the perpetrator influences the risk, severity and harm caused. Around 1 in 3 women experience domestic abuse during their lifetimes.
The perpetrator is most often a partner or ex-partner. But domestic abuse can also be perpetrated by other family members or carers.
Although anyone can be affected, there can be different risks and barriers for people from different groups. For example:
Disabled women are more likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women.
Black and minority ethnic women can face additional barriers to accessing support.
Older women are less likely to report domestic abuse.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women may experience domestic abuse from homophobic family members and can be vulnerable to abusers who undermine their sexuality or threaten to ‘out’ them to others.
Trans men and women may have fewer services available to them.
Men may find it more difficult to disclose abuse and find more barriers to accessing support.
Domestic abuse is a workplace issue
Some people see domestic abuse as a personal or private issue. But the reality is that it can affect every aspect of a person’s life and, as trade unionists, we know that includes their working life.
There can also often be a wider impact on colleagues. In some cases, abuse and intimidation can spill over into the workplace. Or the perpetrator and the victim/survivor may work in the same workplace.
Employers have a duty of care towards workers. As such, it is important that they recognise domestic abuse as a serious issue that they can play a role in helping to stop.
The signs of abuse can be subtle, especially as people may try very hard to keep them hidden. This is often due to a sense of stigma or fear. It may be more difficult to spot the warning signs at the moment with so many people working from home and normal routines disrupted. But you may notice a change in someone’s behaviour or an impact on things like patterns of communication and work performance.
The workplace can be a place of respite for people experiencing abuse at home. For those now working at home and unable to meet up with friends and wider family due to social distancing measures, it is even more difficult for people to get support. Many may be feeling in increased danger at home.
Line managers, co-workers and trade union reps might now be someone’s most regular contact outside the home. They can help by spotting the signs and providing support. It is important that during this time, employers are doing all that they can to support workers who may be affected by this issue.
As lockdown measures are eased there may be an increase in people seeking to leave abusive situations at home. They might need additional support from the workplace during this time.
As a union rep, you can be a point of contact for members and can help them to access support. There are also things you can ask your employer to do to support workers experiencing domestic abuse.
Employers have a responsibility to protect workers from abuse
All employers have an obligation to protect their employees from abuse at work. They have a legal responsibility in promoting the welfare and safety of all staff. This is set out under
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1992)
Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (1995)
The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations (1996)..
What can employers do to support workers experiencing domestic abuse?
In some workplaces, unions have negotiated specific workplace policies on domestic abuse. Or sometimes provision is made under existing health and safety, equality, dignity at work, leave or other policies.
Union reps can work with employers to bring in new policies where none exist or to adapt existing arrangements if any changes are needed in response to the particular issues presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Having a workplace policy on domestic abuse can help to make it clearer to workers the support that is available and make them feel more confident in disclosing abuse and seeking support.
You can spot signs, provide support and help stop further abuse.
What to do if you know or fear someone may be experiencing domestic abuse:
1. Spot abuse: If you think someone’s behaviour is unusual, it is better to ask than to assume. Consider the use of closed questions (questions to which they can answer “yes” or “no”) in case someone else may be listening.
2. Remember: domestic abuse isn’t always physical. It’s a pattern of controlling and intimidating behaviour that can be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual. It can happen in same-sex and heterosexual relationships.
3. Support: The most important thing you can do is listen and believe. Keep in touch. This could be through regular video or phone calls, or if it is safer via emails or text messages. Be careful and sensitive. Keep checking in with them, even if they don’t want to seek help yet.
4. Stop abuse: Encourage them to call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. The helpline will put them in touch with local services that can help them make a plan to get safe. People experiencing domestic abuse are allowed to leave their home to seek help during lockdown. If serious domestic abuse is disclosed, you should encourage them to call 101, or 999 if the situation is critical.
For members in Wales Wales TUC resources and support
Specialist support services
Men’s Advice Line – for male victims of domestic abuse
Galop – for members of the LGBT+ community
Hestia – Hestia provides a free-to-download mobile app, Bright Sky, which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know.
Chayn – provides online help and resources in a number of languages, ranging from identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.