The rise in domestic violence during COVID-19: A guide for employers
DISCLAIMER: Domestic, sexual and family violence can be a complex, and extremely serious situation for individuals. It is important you seek professional advice from Domestic Violence services, refuges and organisations who can specify requirements for employers and organisations. This following information is for informative purposes only and should not be replaced or substituted for professional advice.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
According to Bryant, W. & Bricknall, on average, one woman a week in Australia is murdered by her current or former partner. This sadly is another statistic that is likely to increase over this time. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 1 in 6 women revealed they’d experienced at least one domestic violence incident since the age of 15… so the reality is, employers are likely to have team members (or possibly themselves) be exposed to it.
As the COVID-19 crisis sweeps the nation, isolation and extended periods of time at home has resulted in alarming concern for increases in Domestic Violence. The following article aims to provide awareness around the current situation, how to approach this issue with staff and employees, and key resources for professional services, information and training.
Some key points
- Domestic, sexual and family violence services (referred to DV and DV services in this article) have been holding emergency meetings around the country as fears about the potential impacts of the coronavirus on women trapped in abusive relationships mount.
- When someone is experiencing sexual, domestic and family violence it can affect their productivity, performance and wellbeing.
- Managers, co-workers and organisations as a whole should know how to respond appropriately and to refer to specialist support services.
- It is important employers are aware of increases in domestic violence, and take a proactive approach to providing safe workplaces, even while the workforce may be working from home.
- Employers should find out more on how to respond to crisis situations involving domestic violence, increase training and professional development, and know how to support
- Additional challenges for DV during COVID-19 include an increase in violence, financial abuse, additional isolation, cutting off support from friends and family and sexual assault.
“Research has found that there is often a spike in violence against women during major crises and disasters – which have many similar features to the current situation with the devastating spread of COVID-19.
“Situations of heightened stress and panic, potential family disruption, social isolation, increased financial pressures, and disruption to people’s usual roles can all compound or exacerbate the underlying conditions that lead to violence.
“This is often reflected in the increased demand for domestic violence crisis services at such times.
“It is important to note, however, that these kinds of stress-related factors, which can increase the severity and frequency of violence, do not in themselves ‘cause’ or drive violence against women.” – ABC Australia
The following information is from 1800RESPECT, which provides advice on how to identify and approach sexual, domestic and family violence as an employer or organisation.
Supporting someone impacted by domestic violence
Read through the 1800RESPECT website for information about different types of abuse, and how to recognise the signs of domestic violence, and how to support someone you know. Some key things to remember during this time are to:
- Believe them and take their fears seriously
- Never blame the person experiencing violence for what has happened to them
- Don’t make excuses for the person who has hurt them
- Support them whenever they need to talk
- Be part of their safety plan: know the code words or signals if they need to escape
- Help in practical ways, for example by providing them with transport, a phone or a place to escape to
- Call 000 at any time if they are in immediate danger.
- If you are in a support role and would like more information or support, you are welcome to contact 1800RESPECT at any time by phone or webchat.
The Recognise, Respond, Refer Framework
As an employer, the following framework can be utilised, especially during this time. It consists of three steps to approaching a DV situation. It is important that the following two factors are prioritised and considered throughout the implementation of each step:
- Thinking of safety first. Is what I am doing making it safer for the person experiencing sexual, domestic or family violence?
- Holding perpetrators responsible. Is what I’m doing sending a clear message that the perpetrator is responsible and accountable for their violence, not the person who experiences it?
Recognise the signs of domestic and family violence
Respond with appropriate care and sensitivity
Refer effectively to support services and professional carers
Domestic violence in men – determining victim vs perpetrator
Although statistics show women are predominantly impacted by domestic violence, men can also be victims of domestic violence.
You may also have the experience of having an employee who is actually a perpetrator of violence.
Mensline Australia explains that differentiating between a victim and a perpetrator is fundamental.
“In seeking to minimise and justify their violence, some men will claim to be a victim of violence from their female partner, yet actually be perpetrators of violence. We also recognise that men may be genuine victims of violence from a female partner.
“Distinguishing between these very different presentations is critical to ensure workers avoid colluding with perpetrators of violence. Acceptance of his justifications can further reinforce his entitlement to use violence as well as also encourage him to continue to blame her for the violence in the relationship.
“On the other hand, workers risk entering into a victim blaming dialogue with those who genuinely need support.
“Rather than focus on the story, workers are encouraged to take note of the differing presentations of these two groups of men. The following descriptions give some ideas of these differences, and some clues as to how different questions might elicit more information.” – Mensline Australia
How sexual, domestic and family violence can affect employees
The strain of dealing with sexual assault and domestic and family violence can impact on a worker’s productivity, performance and wellbeing.
They may be receiving threatening phone calls or emails and they may be more vulnerable.
This can be the case even when they are no longer living with the perpetrator, as their work location and hours of work may be known to them.
Managers and co-workers have a responsibility to know how to respond sensitively and to refer employees experiencing violence to specialist support.
Employees experiencing sexual assault or domestic and family violence may show signs of:
- Distress (for example, crying)
They may be having trouble concentrating at work and managing deadlines and they may require time off work to obtain protection orders or to keep their children safe.
They may also have doctors’ or counselling appointments for themselves and any children.
How managers can provide support
Managers can make a real difference to the wellbeing of employees experiencing violence by implementing strategies that support their retention at work and improve work productivity. These include for example:
- The offer of training for all staff in their organisation, so that staff can respond appropriately to disclosure, recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, provide appropriate support and know how to refer to more specialist services
- The availability of a contact person within the organisation, who can support the employee and refer them to relevant services
- Clear procedures for co-workers to manage disclosures by employees impacted by violence,
- Policies for supporting employees impacted by violence, including:
- Domestic violence leave policy
- Flexible working hours to manage appointments, responsibilities for children
- Reduced workloads or change of tasks to accommodate employees’ needs during times of crisis.
Over COVID-19, it is particularly important to ascertain if working from home is safe wherever you can. While most employers are being challenged with the logistics of setting people up from home, in these instances it is also reviewing whether there is any safe way to still offer limited opportunities to attend the workplace (subject to government social distancing requirements).
How organisations can provide support
Organisational strategies for dealing with sexual assault and domestic and family violence also need to be inclusive of all employees, including women, men, employees with disabilities, those who identify as LGBTI and employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Organisations also have a responsibility to respond appropriately to their staff who may be perpetrators of violence. Perpetrators may use their work time and resources to conduct abusive acts. This can include:
- Emailing, phoning or texting at work
- Using work IT systems to access private information about someone
- Acting abusively towards other staff or clients
- Manipulating pay or roster systems to avoid child support or other obligations
- Unacceptable behaviour by perpetrators should never be tolerated
Organisations need clearly articulated organisational policies for dealing with unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. These policies need to be compliant with legislation regulating work conditions and employee codes of conduct.
Safety planning tips to provide employees
The following tips can be shared with staff.
- Contact 1800RESPECT by phone or web chat when it is safe to do so. Their counsellors are experienced in dealing with situations where the person using violence is still in the house, and will work with you on a safety plan
- Identify safe areas of the house where there are less dangerous items and may be ways to escape if possible
- Have a phone charged and accessible, with stored important numbers, and a back up phone if possible
- Call 000 at any time if you are in immediate danger, and teach your children how to call 000 if you are unable to do so. You will have to notify the police if there are COVID19 concerns at your home
- Let trusted friends and neighbours know of your situation and develop a plan (this might include a code word or visual signal if you need help)
- Make a habit of backing into the driveway and keeping the car fuelled
- Look through our Escape Bag checklist and make a note of things you may need to take with you (for example, phone and charger, keys, important documents, key card or cash)
- Download the Sunny or Daisy apps for more information about safety planning and services in your area
Supporting those responding to sexual, domestic and family violence
Working with people who have experienced sexual assault and domestic and family violence is complex work, requiring specialist skills.
Listening to and working with the traumatic experiences of people impacted by violence can also be distressing and over time impact upon workers’ own wellbeing.
Managers of sexual assault and domestic and family violence services have a responsibility to ensure that staff are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills to support people affected by violence through the offer of ongoing training and professional development.
Access to regular supervision is also important to enhance workers’ capability in working with people affected by violence.
Policies that focus on employee wellbeing are also important to address the risk of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. These, at a minimum include:
- The development of employee wellbeing plans
- Access to regular debriefing
- Regular monitoring of employee wellbeing
- Access to counselling and support
- These policies should sit under an overarching staff support framework for employees working with those impacted by sexual assault and domestic and family violence.
** The above information has been directly sourced from 1800RESPECT and their information for employers. You can access the original article here.
“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.”