What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is more than just physical violence. It can also include, but is not limited to:
- coercive control and manipulation of someone into doubting their own sanity by psychological means
- economic abuse
- online abuse
- verbal abuse
- emotional abuse
- sexual abuse
While domestic abuse can happen to anyone, in any walk of life, of any gender, it is important to be aware that women experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed.
There has been a catastrophic increase in the number of domestic abuse reports during COVID-19. Lockdown, social distancing and the increase in homeworking means that many abuse survivors have found themselves isolated in the home they share with perpetrators of abuse.
Homeworking and domestic abuse
While levels of abuse may be rising, visibility within employment settings may be undermined because of the shift to homeworking. It is therefore critical that managers ensure they prioritise staying in contact with staff who are working from home. This includes regular 1:1s, check-ins and team meetings.
Impact of abuse on a homeworker
Perpetrators of abuse:
- may seek to interfere with a member of staff’s work life by creating a disruptive environment by limiting or threatening to limit access to technology
- may take advantage of heightened anxiety or stress due to financial concerns, as well as additional childcare or other family responsibilities, to exert more control or make additional demands
- are more easily able to watch a member of staff, making it more difficult for them to reach out for help. Social distancing makes it likely that a member of staff’s connections to the following is greatly diminished:
- Domestic violence support organisations
- Faith communities
- Supportive colleagues
Identifying potential signs of abuse
Supporting staff with domestic abuse is sensitive and complex and can become trickier for managers when staff are working from home.
It is important to pick up on cues from staff such as:
- a change in behaviour
- not dialling into meetings (telephone or online when expected to do so)
- not using the visual aids when in the meeting
- seeming withdrawn
- changes in productivity
Support and response
If you are concerned that a member of staff is experiencing domestic abuse, consider whether it is safe to have a conversation with the staff member to discuss the issue. You will need to be careful that this conversation takes place without the perpetrator present, e.g. when the member of staff is going out for a walk or going shopping.
If you believe that the staff member's communication is being monitored, ensure you continue to communicate with them as normal so as not to increase risk.
Here are some examples of questions and prompts that could be used to open a conversation:
- How are you doing at the moment?
- Your well-being is important to me and I’ve noticed that you seem distracted/upset at the moment, are you ok?
- If there’s anything you’d like to talk to me about at any time, I’m always here to support you
- Is everything alright at home?
- You don’t have to tell me anything, but please know that I would like to support you if and when you feel you need it
- What support do you think might help? What would you like to happen and how?
If a member of staff does reach out for help, there are a number of ways to support them and increase their safety:
- Identify how you can safely communicate with the member of staff while they are working remotely
- Be willing to discuss alternative work locations to the home and what precautions they may need to take if coming in to work on-site
- Seek advice from HR about the Trust’s policies for special leave and time off work
- Most importantly, let the employee know that you value them and that you care about their safety
Additionally, UHB has two independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) from Birmingham and Solihull Women's Aid who are able to offer support to staff who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse.
IDVAs are available between 09:00 and 17:00 from Monday to Friday. Staff members can self-refer to IDVAs, so where possible give out the contact information to the member of staff in a safe way.
Debby Edwards is also available to offer support and advice to managers who are worried about a member of staff.
Debby Edwards, Project Lead for Domestic Abuse and IDVAs
Tel: 07810 156 067
Claire Phillips (QEHB)
Tel: 07557 598 841
Saras Arulampalam (Good Hope, Heartlands and Solihull hospitals)
Tel: 07880 070 131
Tel: 999 (or 112 from a mobile) for the emergency services (police, fire ambulance)
Tel: ext. 119 (Trust security)