Domestic violence: how firms can address the ‘shadow pandemic’

Recognising abuse remotely is challenging and makes regular interactions with your team even more important, say Justine Campbell and Paul Quinlan

Domestic violence: how firms can address the ‘shadow pandemic’

One in four women and one in six men in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics and charity Hestia. Domestic abuse includes coercive control, psychological, physical or financial abuse, harassment and stalking. Since lockdown set in and dramatic shifts were made to working arrangements, cases of abuse have risen significantly. The UN has described the worldwide increase as a ‘shadow pandemic’, with calls to UK domestic violence charity Refuge jumping by 120 per cent overnight.

It is likely that some people in your workforce are enduring domestic abuse and, for many of them, a physical place of work is pivotal and represents a safe space in their day. The issue could also be having a significant impact on the productivity, performance and health of your business. Whether an organisation is considering longer-term remote working or exploring the feasibility of returning to the office, there are actions that can be taken to encourage people to talk about domestic abuse without fear of judgement or consequence for their employment, signpost support available and increase understanding of the issue.

For those suffering domestic abuse and continuing to work from home, it can be harder to open up on video calls as their abuser may be listening in, and they have no respite through their usual everyday commute or social interactions in the workplace. Recognising abuse in a virtual working environment is incredibly challenging and makes regular interactions with your team even more essential. This is a complex topic and some people may find it easier to say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing. Raising awareness of the issue and equipping your teams with helpful materials is important, but the key to helping people is creating an environment of trust where they feel they can disclose abuse and will be supported.

Incorporating domestic abuse initiatives into the wider wellbeing strategy and leveraging existing internal communications to point to resources are important steps that can have a big impact. Outlining the support available in other pieces of content that people are likely to read in detail, such as parental leave policies (the risk of abuse can increase during pregnancy or soon after the birth), can also make a significant difference.

More broadly, domestic abuse charities recognise the valuable role employers can play and have expertise to help ensure you can support your people. At EY, as part of our ongoing commitment to supporting those affected by domestic abuse, we increased our engagement with Hestia by giving all our people access to an independent domestic violence advocate (IDVA).

IDVAs provide one-to-one direct support, offering confidential, practical and impartial advice on domestic abuse, child matters, safety, housing, legal options and financial support, and guide individuals towards the support available. They can also be the point of contact should an individual need information on the criminal justice system – whether it’s regarding reporting incidents to the police, attending court to give evidence as a witness or obtaining court orders.

Businesses alone cannot solve the issue and there isn’t a one size fits all answer. One way they can have a significant impact is through participation in initiatives such as the Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse, which is free to join and helps share best practice among employers. By taking this step, alongside working with their employees and organisations such as Hestia, they can identify ways to best help those affected in their workforce and make a real difference.

Justine Campbell is managing partner at EY UK&I and Paul Quinlan is head of employee relations at EY