How do we support those we work with who we think are in abusive relationships?
In the UK alone more than two million people experienced domestic abuse in the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. It happens in all types of relationships, regardless of race, ethnic or religious groups, class, disability, sexuality, lifestyle, nationality, age or occupation.
Last week a Chief Inspector Sharon Baker, a senior leader who has worked for Avon and Somerset Police for over a decade and a PCSO broke the silence about their history of living in abusive relationships with the hope of inspiring more survivors to report domestic abuse and to shed light on the signs of abuse to look out for.
Everyone in the workplace has some responsibility to destigmatize domestic abuse and create an environment where it can be discussed openly and honestly. As colleagues, we all play a crucial role in that. Whether we are working remotely, or in an office, the people we work with are a constant point of contact and we all have a responsibility to make sure we are all safe and well.
As managers the onus is on us to recognise and acknowledge the issue, address our response to it, by making sure that both policy and procedure and the culture we foster in our workplaces supports victims. We also need to arm ourselves with the appropriate information to refer our employees to the right kind of support.
Superintendent Liz Hughes was the duty Inspector and the person Sharon chose to confide in at work about her situation. Here she talks about how and why it’s important for managers to create a working environment where employees feel safe to talk about these types of experiences:
“Throughout my managerial and leadership roles I have always tried to build a productive and supportive team culture, which allows colleagues to bring their whole selves to work. Organisations can have the most comprehensive policies and strategies in place but unless these live in the values and actions of their leaders they are of little use.
“Sharon and I had a great working relationship. I had worked with her for several years and knew her well. I noticed she’d been looking a bit more tired and staying at work later than necessary but I was genuinely shocked when she told me the full extent of the domestic abuse she had been suffering. Whilst I had asked questions about her wellbeing in our meetings, I have often reflected whether I could have noticed earlier. Having discussed this recently with Sharon I now understand how hard it was for her to tell me that day and how the trust she had in me to believe was a decisive factor to speak out.
“When Sharon disclosed to me it was at a point of crisis, I made sure I listened and understood the situation. I reassured her that she was my number one priority and that we were going to build a plan together. My professional experience of survivors of domestic abuse is that they are adept at their own safety planning, recognising even the smallest, unnoticeable sign to others that perpetrators are building up to abuse. Sharon and I designed a joint safety plan and I ensured she was referred to specialist services to support her. This plan included regular check in points for us to discuss how she was feeling and whether I needed to do anything that day.
“My advice to line manager and colleagues is:
• Reflect on your team- do you build meaningful and trusting relationships with those you manage and lead? Would staff feel confident to disclose?
• Recognise that everyone can be a victim of domestic abuse – know the signs
• Know your policies at work- consider work commitments and make changes where needed.
• Depending on your work environment think about discreet plans to ensure safety at work.
• Engage professional support where you do not have the right skills and knowledge.”
If you would like further help, Business in the Community and Public Health England has recently published a useful toolkit for employers providing some guidance on how to raise awareness of the issue within your organisation and advice on how best to support employees. You can download it here: https://www.bitc.org.uk/toolkit/domestic-abuse-toolkit/
Read more about Sharon and Gemma’s stories HERE.
Watch Sharon’s video HERE.
For more advice and details of support organisations please visit: www.thisisnotanexcuse.org
To report domestic abuse to the police call 101. Always call 999 in an emergency. If you can’t speak call 999 and dial 55 when you hear the operator. This will alert them and they will put you straight through to the police. You can also report domestic abuse via our website online HERE.