By now, most people across our nation are painstakingly aware of the devastating domestic violence case involving Hannah Clarke and her children. While words cannot appropriately articulate the emotions associated with such an incident, what it does bring to light is that more needs to be done to address domestic violence in Australia.
So, what is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence includes a range of behaviours that can be used to coerce and control a family member or intimate partner. For example, use of sexual, physical and verbal aggression, and means of control via financial and social restraint. While domestic violence includes people of all genders, research shows that women are impacted at a higher frequency than men. Prevalence is even higher for Indigenous women.
Domestic violence is oftentimes a well-masked killer, being the leading cause of disability, illness and death in women aged 24 to 44. If that fact isn’t concerning enough to demonstrate why organisations should be acting on this phenomenon, how about the fact that one woman per week is murdered by a current or former partner?
Research has revealed that rates of domestic violence rise after the occurrence of natural disaster, so with the large-scale bushfires experienced recently in Australia, this issue is on everyone’s mind—and so it should be.
Is domestic violence really a business issue?
As organisations, we might not feel that the duty of care falls on us to resolve domestic violence. Stigma associated with violent relationships often involves wondering why the victim doesn’t leave, or what they see in their partner that makes them stay.
Data shows that 70% of women are most vulnerable to injury or death after they have left the relationship. Domestic violence forms a cycle, and as it unfolds over time, it becomes more and more dangerous for the victim to walk away unscathed. Particularly when children are involved, leaving the relationship is not as easy as it might seem from an outside perspective.
As a matter of fact, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness in women and children. So not only are your employees at risk of sustaining escalated injury once leaving their relationship, but they might be facing risk of homelessness.
Experiencing abuse at home is not only a safety risk to the individual, but has flow on effects to all aspects of life. An employee impacted by domestic violence is likely to experience impaired mental health, including fear, anxiety and depression, reduced ability to concentrate, and social withdrawal. Supporting your employee not only helps them maintain connection through an isolating experience, but also helps ensure those around the impacted employee don’t begin to disconnect and feel the flow-on effects of violence.
Think that this issue isn’t happening in your organisation? With 1 in 6 women experiencing abuse before the age of 15 and more than 60% of victims still working while experiencing violence, it’s a sure bet you have a touchpoint with someone who could use a helping hand.
What should we be doing to help?
A recent survey found that 48% of people have reported domestic violence to their supervisor or manager, yet only 20% of employees feel confident knowing how to help a work colleague experiencing violence outside of work. Knowing how to respond if a team member or peer reports violence to you is an important first step in addressing the situation.
1. If your colleague or employee is showing signs they need to talk, provide a safe space and lend a listening ear. Listening openly without judgment is the first step to supporting someone impacted by violence.
2. Once you have heard what’s happening, offer support. Does your organisation offer an EAP service that is paid for and confidential? Do you know of domestic violence support services that might help provide guidance during this time (1800RESPECT)?
3. While a first response of empathy and support is important, keeping in touch after this first conversation will show your team member/colleague that you genuinely care, maintaining a psychologically safe work environment for them as they cope with instability at home.
Addressing domestic violence is most effective when organisations have pre-established systems in place to support their people.
For example, while Australian legislation has set a requirement that all organisations provide a minimum of 5 days unpaid domestic violence leave for impacted employees each year, this does not address the financial strain placed on employees who are experiencing violence.
Victims of violence are most likely to be the ones to walk out of their homes, leaving behind shelter in search for safety. It therefore seems counterintuitive that an employer might offer support to their employee in the form of unpaid leave, during a time when they are most in need of financial aid. Additionally, providing employees with flexible work during this time will ensure they are able to make appropriate arrangements for support outside of work, better establishing safety and security over the long term.
If we really want to address domestic violence in our nation, we must go beyond provision of unpaid leave and ensure our employees are supported with appropriate referral networks, flexible working arrangements, and paid leave, while they seek the help they need.
It’s one thing to raise awareness about domestic violence, but in order to create sustainable change, we need to tackle this issue head on. A Human Agency can help you implement a support system for your employees. Let’s tackle this issue together!