Home isn’t always the safe place it should be and across the UK, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be affected by domestic abuse at some point during their adult lifetime and a further 1 in 7 children will have lived with domestic abuse at some point during their childhood (Women’s Aid, 2018).
The current coronavirus pandemic has thrown domestic abuse into the spotlight where in the first week of lockdown, domestic homicides trebled.
With increased working from home looking likely into our futures, businesses need to understand the impact domestic abuse has in the workplace. They need to understand the nature and complexity of domestic abuse better, not only because they have such a valuable window of opportunity to reach a victim, but their organisation itself will benefit in a number of different ways.
Visit www.alphavesta.com for details of fully-funded online workshops that help companies understand the nature and complexity of domestic abuse and the impact of domestic abuse in the workplace.
Extent and impact of domestic abuse
Domestic abuse occurs across the world irrespective of socio-economic status, age, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Furthermore, whilst we tend to consider intimate relationships as the site of domestic abuse, domestic abuse exists across the family spectrum where older teenagers and adult children can be abusive and violent to their parents or elderly relatives living in the home.
The impact of domestic abuse across the country and across the world is phenomenal. Domestic abuse is not always about control and coercion though – sometimes it’s about underlying vulnerability and poor communication that spirals into emotional and physical assaults. Other times, the pattern of control and coercion is so sinister and frightening for a victim, the options around ending that relationship are fraught with risks of stalking and harassment, even the threat of murder if they try to leave.
One incident per minute…
Figures released at the end of last year showed that police recorded an average of one incident per minute in the year ending 2019 and there were 1.32 million domestic abuse related incidents recorded by police.
However, due to the nature of domestic abuse, not all victims will necessarily reach out to the police, and the Office of National Statistics place the actual domestic abuse incidents at 2 million a year. In addition, Essex Police released figures in November 2019 to show that one third of all violent crime across the county is domestic related.
The Home Office Study on the Social and Economic Costs of Domestic Abuse released last year placed them at a massive £66 billion per year. Physical and mental health costs, criminal justice costs, social services costs, housing and refuge costs as well as civil legal costs form a big part of this figure, with £14 billion of this as a direct cost to the economy to business across the UK.
Surprisingly though, whilst the costs showed a spend of nearly £35,000 per victim, only £5 was spent on preventative work!
The impact domestic abuse has on businesses
In a study commissioned by KPMG and Vodafone in November 2019, they estimated that £316m in economic output is lost by UK businesses each year just as a result of the work absences related to domestic abuse. Furthermore, the potential loss of earnings per woman in the UK as a result of abuse having negative impacts on career progression, is estimated to be £5,800.
The ‘ripple effect’
Victims of domestic abuse are impacted psychologically and physically in a number of different ways. From being fearful as well as living in a constant state of red alert, they can often be exhausted.
Domestic abuse does not just affect the victim in the workplace though. In research commissioned by Vodafone and conducted by Opinium Research, 1 in 2 victims said their work colleagues were affected too so let’s think about this ‘ripple effect’ that trickles through an organisation.
Our victim is likely to be struggling to meet their own basic needs each day let alone the demands in the workplace. This often leads to resentment and frustration in the workplace by colleagues and team members if they don’t know what their colleague maybe facing at home.
The victim may often be late, have a lot of days off work and not be as productive as the rest of the team. Those that may suspect that they are in an abusive relationship are usually ill-equipped to respond safely but also take on a lot of responsibility for them as well as try to cover for them or protect them. What this then leads to is a team struggling to cope and the impact then on their own productivity and mental health. This then ripples out to other teams in terms of the performance and morale of the whole organisation as well as now a real attendance, lateness, and absence problem.
Without anyone really knowing how to respond and what to do, we start to see the risk of a violent incident occurring in the workplace, colleagues unknowingly facilitating the abuse, risk of confidentiality breaches and compromised technology are important considerations where we have a very controlling partner or family member in the home watching over them. Misplaced disciplinary measures, grievances, poor career progression and organisational reputation start to then appear across an organisation that has in effect, been growing a monster from within.
How can companies help domestic abuse victims?
Embedding a culture of understanding, creating a non-judgemental space for employees, a commitment to ongoing training and an understanding of the risk factors that surround domestic abuse are the four key fundamental areas which we educate companies on.
Over half of victims of domestic abuse did not disclose the abuse to anyone at work because they were ashamed or felt it was inappropriate to mention but over 65% of those same victims said they felt safer at work than at home and that they could be themselves.
If this doesn’t demonstrate that the workplace is a key window to reach out to someone, what does? The cycle of abuse means that there are very few safe opportunities to reach a victim of domestic abuse and the workplace is a key place to achieve this safely.
Article by Lucy Whittaker, Founding Director and Lead Trainer, Alpha Vesta CIC
Alpha Vesta CIC deliver awareness, prevention work, training workshops, consultancy, and policy development in domestic abuse across Essex. We are currently jointly funded by Essex Police Fire and Crime Commissioner and Essex Community Foundation in a shared mission of ‘breaking the cycle of domestic abuse’.
Visit Alpha Vesta’s website at www.alphavesta.com to find out more and join any number of fully-funded online workshops in order to create awareness and understanding across the County through the Workplace or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.