You’ve probably seen the news reports - lockdowns around the world have resulted in an increase in domestic abuse. It is a frightening time for anyone experiencing abuse. You may be feeling concerned about some of your members, co-workers, friends or family members.
Measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus mean that many people are now isolated at home with an abuser. There may also be additional tensions in the home, such as increased money worries. Although of course these can never be an excuse for abuse.
Isolation, social distancing and the fear generated by the virus provide new opportunities for abusers to intimidate and control partners. These factors increase the risk of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. It can also make it more difficult for survivors to access safety and support networks.
As lockdown measures are eased, there may be an increase in people seeking to leave abusive situations at home. They might need additional support from the workplace during this time.
Domestic abuse can affect anyone and can take many forms.
Welsh Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as: “the exercise of control by one person over another within an intimate or close family relationship; the abuse can be sexual, physical, financial, emotional or psychological.”
Examples of abuse include:
Belittling, insulting, or demeaning someone with words – alone or in front of others.
Any type of violence against someone such as pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, choking or using weapons.
Attempting to restrict who someone sees or talks to. Preventing them socialising with friends or family.
Persistently undermining or manipulating someone, so they doubt their own sanity or become convinced that they're the problem.
Taking control of someone's finances to deny them money and limit their independence.
Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex when they don't want to (rape), touching or groping, making someone watch pornography.
Insulting or threatening someone via social media, messaging, or email.
For example female genital mutilation, honour-based violence, forced marriage.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, but the gender of the victim and of the perpetrator influences the risk, severity and harm caused. Around 1 in 3 women experience domestic abuse during their lifetimes.
The perpetrator is most often a partner or ex-partner. But domestic abuse can also be perpetrated by other family members or carers.
Although anyone can be affected, there can be different risks and barriers for people from different groups. For example:
Some people see domestic abuse as a personal or private issue. But the reality is that it can affect every aspect of a person’s life and, as trade unionists, we know that includes their working life.
There can also often be a wider impact on colleagues. In some cases, abuse and intimidation can spill over into the workplace. Or the perpetrator and the victim/survivor may work in the same workplace.
Employers have a duty of care towards workers. As such, it is important that they recognise domestic abuse as a serious issue that they can play a role in helping to stop.
The signs of abuse can be subtle, especially as people may try very hard to keep them hidden. This is often due to a sense of stigma or fear. It may be more difficult to spot the warning signs at the moment with so many people working from home and normal routines disrupted. But you may notice a change in someone’s behaviour or an impact on things like patterns of communication and work performance.
The workplace can be a place of respite for people experiencing abuse at home. For those now working at home and unable to meet up with friends and wider family due to social distancing measures, it is even more difficult for people to get support. Many may be feeling in increased danger at home.
Line managers, co-workers and trade union reps might now be someone’s most regular contact outside the home. They can help by spotting the signs and providing support. It is important that during this time, employers are doing all that they can to support workers who may be affected by this issue.
As lockdown measures are eased there may be an increase in people seeking to leave abusive situations at home. They might need additional support from the workplace during this time.
As a union rep, you can be a point of contact for members and can help them to access support. There are also things you can ask your employer to do to support workers experiencing domestic abuse.
All employers have an obligation to protect their employees from abuse at work. They have a legal responsibility in promoting the welfare and safety of all staff. This is set out under
In Wales, public bodies have duties under the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act (VAWDASV). This law seeks to promote an improved collective public sector response, stronger leadership and a more consistent focus on the way these issues are tackled in Wales. In addition to providing a framework of support for victims/survivors of abuse, it seeks to stop the abuse happening in the first place.
In some workplaces, unions have negotiated specific workplace policies on domestic abuse. Or sometimes provision is made under existing health and safety, equality, dignity at work, leave or other policies.
Welsh Government guidance states that all public service employers should have a workplace policy regarding VAWDASV and give consideration to a specific policy relating to domestic abuse. Policies should provide guidance on procedures for line managers and colleagues when concerns about domestic abuse have been raised, in addition to official expectations relating to abusive behaviour.
Union reps can work with employers to bring in new policies where none exist or to adapt existing arrangements if any changes are needed in response to the particular issues presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Welsh Women’s Aid has produced a practical guide for managers on providing support during the pandemic.
Having a workplace policy on domestic abuse can help to make it clearer to workers the support that is available and make them feel more confident in disclosing abuse and seeking support.
Key areas of support that can be negotiated as part of a workplace policy include:
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published guidance for developing an effective policy for employers in Wales.
You can speak to your union to see if they have any guidance or resources, such as examples of model policies, available.
A number of unions have developed guidance and examples of model workplace policies on domestic abuse. For example, UNISON has developed detailed guidance which includes a checklist and model policy, and UCU and the GMB union have published model policies.
If you think someone’s behaviour is unusual, it is better to ask than to assume. Consider the use of closed questions (questions to which they can answer “yes” or “no”) in case someone else may be listening.
People will be acting differently because of social distancing, isolation, and anxiety, but you need to be aware of the possibility of abuse.
Be on the look-out for changes in behaviour or changes in regular patterns of communication. It's better to sensitively check than make assumptions.
These are some signs to look out for that might help you spot abuse:
Normally active on social media, they're now oddly quiet. Controlling or deleting social media accounts is a control tool often used by abusers.
Have they previously talked about their partner's temper, jealousy, controlling nature, or perhaps substance abuse in the past?
Has their personality changed, do they seem subdued and less confident than usual?
If you've seen them virtually or in person, do they appear unusually unkempt or with unexplained injuries?
Many of us are of course more dishevelled as our routines vanish, and we may be suffering from low mood, but these are still signs to watch out for.
They repeatedly make excuses and are unavailable for a call or video chat. Perhaps you've even noticed a change in the style of their text or email messages?
They seem to need check with someone or ask their permission before they can communicate. They're overly worried about pleasing their partner.
Does their partner interrupt or disrupt calls or video chats? Is there any other behaviour that seems controlling?
Keep in touch. While the lockdown and social distancing measures remain in place, this could be through regular video or phone calls, or if it is safer via emails or text messages. Be careful and sensitive.
They may not be able to talk safely, or they may not feel ready to talk about what is happening to them. But general chats and friendly messages will let them know that you are there for them if they are ready to talk at a later date. Keep checking in with them, in ways that feel safe, even if they don’t want to seek help yet.
It takes a huge amount of courage to make a disclosure. Be careful and sensitive in the way you offer or provide support. If someone is in an abusive situation, getting away from it could be very difficult. They may not be able to leave. They know their situation best, so be led by them.
The Live Fear Free Helpline can provide support to anyone affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence. They can also provide advice to those concerned about a colleague, friend or family member. Their helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
They can also provide advice and support by:
Restrictions on movement put in place during the pandemic do not apply in situations where people need to leave their homes to seek help due to domestic abuse.
If they disclose serious domestic abuse, you should encourage them to call 101, or 999 if the situation is critical. If someone is in danger and needs help immediately, they can make a ‘silent’ call to the emergency services. They can dial 999 and press ‘55’ when the operator answers to indicate that they need help but can’t talk.
Always be sensitive to the situation and remember that escaping the abuser may not be an option. You can give people advice on how to keep themselves safe and minimise the risk of violence. They can:
There are some important dos and don'ts for how you give support:
Welsh Women’s Aid has produced a COVID-19 bystanders toolkit which has more information and practical advice on how to support someone who is experiencing abuse.
The Live Fear Free Helpline can provide support to anyone affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence. They can also provide advice to those concerned about a colleague, friend or family member. Their helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0808 80 10 800. You can also get advice and support by:
Welsh Women’s Aid is a national charity in Wales working to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women. It has produced a COVID-19 bystander toolkit and has information and support on its website for anyone needing help and for those worried about someone else.
Bawso provides specialist services for BME communities. They support BME people in Wales experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of abuse, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage, human trafficking. They have a 24-hour helpline 0800 731 8147
Dyn Wales provides support to heteorsexual, gay, bisexual and trans men who are experiencing domestic abuse from a partner: 0808 801 0321
The Welsh Government’s safeguarding guidance can be found here. The Wales Safeguarding Procedures detail the essential roles and responsibilities to safeguard children and adults who are at risk of abuse and neglect. There is also a free All Wales Safeguarding App available on Google Play and a version available on the App Store.
New Pathways provides Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCS). Often victims of rape and sexual assault can feel that they have limited choices and believe that telling someone what happened to them will result in events quickly becoming out of their control. SARC services are completely client focussed and designed to ensure that clients receive the right information to enable them to make their own choices about what happens next. This includes being able to self-refer to a SARC and receive immediate support without having to report to the police. Tel: 01685 379 310; email email@example.com
Respect provides support to help perpetrators manage their behaviour. They also provide for support male victims and young people experiencing violence in close relationships: 0808 8024040
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. It can be contacted on 0808 801 0327.
If you are concerned about how coronavirus may affect your finances and leave you vulnerable to economic abuse, please see the advice provided by HM Treasury on what support is on offer. The charity Surviving Economic Abuse has also provided additional guidance and support.
National family law legal helpline: 020 7251 6577 or www.rightsofwomen.org.uk
Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages, ranging from identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.
The Home Office Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) can offer advice if you’re trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into. They have a helpline: 020 7008 0151 and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children’s charity the NSPCC has a webpage and a free helpline for anyone who is worried that a child is at risk of or has already had Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Tel: 0800 028 3550 or email email@example.com
SafeLives is providing guidance and support to professionals and those working in the domestic abuse sector, as well as additional advice for those at risk.
Domestic violence and the workplace
Our report on the impact domestic abuse has on women’s working lives
Unequal, trapped and controlled
TUC and Women’s Aid joint report on women’s experience of financial abuse.
Safe at home, safe at work
ETUC’s report on trade union strategies to prevent, manage and eliminate violence against women.