When the pandemic began, we were immediately told of the symptoms to better protect us as we navigated this unforeseen crisis. Being educated is the first step you take when tackling issues. Grasping a firm understanding of what to look for, the steps that should be taken to prevent and report it, and gaining a firm understanding of its ramifications. However, there is a separate epidemic in our societies that has existed for years, which isn’t discussed enough: domestic abuse. Also referred to as domestic violence includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in couple relationships (or within families) and can happen to anyone.
Sharon Livermore, founder of Kameo Recruitment (and domestic abuse survivor), has identified the signs of domestic abuse that all employers should recognise to safeguard their employees. Sharon’s own experience inspired her to do more to promote awareness and education. Navigating domestic abuse as a survivor, and the impact it had on her life, led her to creating and introducing a new policy entitled ‘Sharon’s Policy’. Her policy is free, and a great starting point for all businesses who want to take the first step in understanding what they can do. It is made up of a formal policy and then guidance notes, which allow each business to decide what they can implement. The policy calls for businesses to take up four key measures:
- Recognise: Implementation of a domestic abuse policy in the workplace, to help all employees with spotting the signs of abuse.
- Respond: Training provision, to ensure line managers are equipped to handle domestic abuse disclosures.
- Record: Accurate recording of domestic abuse disclosures by the workforce.
- Refer: Proactive signposting and specialist support services (for legal, practical, or emotional assistance).
Recognising signs of abuse is vital. Sharon notes: “the first sign to look for is a change in personality. In my experience I was a very social person, and because of my personal life I found myself being more withdrawn. I was terrified of getting home late, so I remember rapidly wrapping up my activities at the end of the day, refusing to partake in any after work activities, and rushing through phone calls. However, this could go either way. Many survivors tell me that they’d stay behind at work, as they perceived it as a refuge. So, any changes in behaviour could be an indication that something is wrong. But I must clarify that although these are signs to identify domestic abuse, it’s not comprehensive or finite, and we should therefore never make any assumptions. It’s simple enough that we just check in on our co-workers and colleagues if you identify changes in behaviour (and have reason to believe they are in a precarious position).”
Responding is vital, as it ensures your colleagues are aware they have your support. Sharon comments: “My colleagues would identify that some of the behaviour exhibited by my partner was strange, but they would never say anything. If someone had just asked me if I was okay, things could have been really different, and I wouldn’t have felt alone in this situation.” It can be as simple as completing a wellbeing check on your employees and making sure they can vocalise any challenges they are currently facing.
Recording all incidents is crucial, as it ensures that as an employer you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your staff (and it may be needed later in the event of formal prosecutions). It also ensures that they are adequately supported throughout their journey with your organisation. Sharon warns: “My employer was initially supportive and allowed me time to process the difficulties I was facing in my personal life. Where they fell short was not continuing this support when I needed to attend court. They advised me I was unable to take compassionate leave to attend court and would instead have to book it off as annual leave. Given the nature of my court case, I felt it was insensitive to consider this something I would willingly want to take personal time off for.”
Lastly, refer your colleagues to people that can support them. It’s important they are referred to individuals that are adequately equipped to help them. Whether it’s counselling or therapy, advising employees to speak to someone is important, as domestic abuse can have a negative impact on their mental health (and consequently their wellbeing). It’s also key that as an employer, if you believe your staff are in danger, you signpost accordingly and provide legal or domestic support. Sharon concludes:” A lot of domestic abuse victims are afraid to be forthcoming about their experience because they do not have the tools to escape. If employers can better equip them, it could drastically change their perspective.”
In the past two years, we faced multiple lockdowns during which we were confined to the rooms of our homes. Our homes are meant to be safe places, a place where you can control the variables, and seek assurance in the fact that external threats can’t harm you. However, for some, the ramifications of the lockdowns have been detrimental, as it left them susceptible and trapped with their oppressors. In 2020 the Office for National Statistics identified 2.3 million adults (aged 16 to 74) that had experienced domestic abuse, with 1.6 million being women, and 757,000 being men. Through awareness, education, and policies, it’s important that employers do their best to safeguard staff from the epidemic that is domestic abuse.