One in five people over the age of 16 have experienced domestic abuse of some kind, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics in November 2022. This means that in any workplace, or indeed, within the majority of teams, statistically, you may well know someone who is experiencing, or has experienced, domestic abuse.
These figures are alarmingly high, yet it can be extremely difficult to spot individuals who are victims of abuse. Even where the abuse is physical, most perpetrators will ensure any marks of their abuse is not readily visible. Where the abuse presents in the form of controlling or coercive behaviour, this can be notoriously difficult to spot.
With employees spending a significant portion of their time at work, employers are well placed to offer access to support. Yet, domestic abuse remains something of a hidden issue, in part due to the fear many victims experience. In some cases, meanwhile, victims may not even recognise the abusive nature of their relationship.
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One of the traits of an abusive relationship is the logistical difficulties involved in leaving. Many individuals experiencing abuse may not have access to their own finances or will have been cut off from friends and family who could have offered support and an escape route. According to charity Refuge, on average, it can take seven attempts before a woman is able to leave an abusive relationship for good.
To help to combat this for its workforce, banking organisation TSB, this week introduced a flee fund for staff experiencing domestic, financial or economic abuse. The fund, which provides up to £500 of urgent financial support, is designed to cover the cost of essentials such as accommodation, travel, clothing and toiletries to enable domestic abuse survivors to escape an abusive situation.
At Employee Benefits Live earlier this month, meanwhile, journalist and television presenter Ruth Dodsworth described her experiences of working for ITV Cymru, Wales while in a 20-year abusive relationship. She outlined some of the signs colleagues could look out for to help them to identify if someone needed help. These include: someone wearing long sleeves in hot weather, increased stress levels, repeatedly turning down invitations to socialise or spend time with colleagues and a partner repeatedly turning up to the workplace unannounced.
When Dodsworth’s relationship ended with a trial and her former husband receiving a prison sentence, ITV did not have a policy to support her through the process. Following his conviction, she subsequently she worked with her employer to develop a policy of support for future survivors of domestic abuse. Her recommendations for employers looking to do the same include offering access to helplines for affected employees and providing additional leave days to enable survivors to move or attend court dates without needing to use their annual leave.
In the past 12 months, a number of organsiations have introduced similar measures as part of a domestic abuse policy, including Nationwide Building Society, Axa UK, Kellogg and UK Power Networks, to name a few.
On a practical level, working with an employee who has survived an abusive relationship can help an organisation to put support in place that will truly help others in this situation. Given the sensitivities involved, however, this may be easier said than done. But, with such sobering statistics, the more employers that implement and openly promote such policies, the better.