In the latest in our series of interviews with leaders who are helping everyone think differently about digital during COVID-19 we spoke to Lyndsey Dearlove, Head of Domestic Abuse Prevention, UK SAYS NO MORE and Everyone’s Business at Hestia
1. Domestic violence has obviously been a huge issue during the pandemic. Can you tell us more about the scale of the problem?
We estimated before lockdown that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men had experienced domestic abuse and that between 750, 000 to a million children were living in homes with a parent experiencing domestic abuse. When the government announced lockdown measures in late March 2020 we foresaw that issues would be exacerbated.
We knew that those enduring domestic abuse would be forced to stay home with their abuser… the government slogan, ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’, did not apply to everyone. Those who perpetrate abuse use the lockdown restrictions as an additional opportunity to terrorise and control their victims. They knew that their ability to access help would be severely hindered by these restrictions.
Many women who have managed to escape have told us how the abuse that they experienced dramatically escalated, coercive and controlling behaviour increased and that their normal avenues for accessing help disintegrated overnight. We saw a 47% increase in downloads of our Bright Sky app (which offers advice and signposting to people enduring domestic abuse), our helpline saw an increase in calls, and even calls to Respect’s perpetrator adviceline saw a dramatic increase with more men calling because they were concerned about behaviour.
But as a positive, the pandemic not only saw a dramatic increase in domestic abuse but also an increase in awareness of domestic abuse with the police, charities and businesses all working together to improve pathways to support.
Sometimes the only safe place a person enduring domestic abuse has is their place of work away from their perpetrator, although research also shows that 75% of domestic abuse victims are targeted whilst at work (Equality & Human Rights Commission). During lockdown this safe space was taken away from people, and economic independence was threatened with redundancies and furloughs.
2. If everyone on their team is working remotely how can someone spot if one of their colleagues is experiencing domestic violence?
Domestic abuse is difficult to ‘spot’. It is a hidden crime compounded by shame, fear, victim blaming and gross misunderstandings often masked and routed in prejudice. To ‘spot’, domestic abuse we first have to accept and understand that it can happen to anyone regardless of their age, ethnicity, gender, economic status or type of relationship. We have to understand that it is never the victim’s fault, and that leaving is not easy and at times incredibly risky. In the first three weeks of lockdown fourteen women and two children were murdered by a current or ex-partner – an increase of 160%.
It is important to listen, and be aware of changes in behaviour. Someone may suddenly not be able to engage in workplace meetings online, or might be looking uncomfortable and indicating that there is someone in the room with them. Their performance may suddenly deteriorate or they may take increased sick days.
3. What action should colleagues take if they suspect that one of their colleagues is at risk?
Find subtle and covert ways in which an employee can raise a white flag and ask for help. Provide an open opportunity for people to return to the workplace and offer the option that if a formal request is needed – to provide an excuse to leave the house, that you could facilitate this for their benefit. Use your intranet, emails and internal events to highlight helpline numbers and ways in which you can access help. Encourage the use of company emails and phones – often the only unmonitored method of communication left to access help. Perhaps most importantly equip all your staff to be ready to respond if they do experience a disclosure – knowing what to do and who to refer to in that moment can be life changing and lifesaving.
4. What is Everyone’s Business and how can it help? Can charities access the scheme?
Everyone’s Business is a programme that works with employers to create an effective domestic abuse response for their employees; from supporting the development of a domestic abuse policy to providing tools such as the Everyone’s Business portal, training, an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor service and the Advice Line. Everyone’s Business aims are that by working with you and your business to ultimately improve pathways to support for those enduring domestic violence and for those that will support their colleagues through disclosures.
Charities are at the forefront of helping people, working with communities and often responding in a crisis. It is important that we don’t forget to help those that help. As a charity worker it can be difficult to ask for help, perhaps the same help that you are providing to others. Hestia, who provide a number of specialist domestic support services provide their staff confidential access to a specialist domestic abuse service. We took a moment with our employees to understand what barriers they may have felt that those who were enduring domestic abuse and working in a community setting could face. One stood out, ‘how can I access a support service that I work with in a professional capacity – what will my colleagues think of me?’ As we have said, anyone can experience domestic abuse – and that includes people who work for charities. They are workplaces like any other.
5. With so many of us working remotely, how can managers create the right culture in their teams so that employees feel able to share if they are in an abusive relationship?
Start with talking broadly about domestic abuse, and have a robust and thoughtful domestic abuse policy. Despite 86% of employers agreeing that they have a duty of care to support employees experiencing domestic abuse (Westmarland, 2017), only 5% of businesses have a domestic abuse policy (The Vodafone Foundation, 2018). Offer training around domestic abuse and focus on empowering all employees so that they feel able to respond to a domestic abuse disclosure. Use your communications channels to share information about domestic abuse, where to access help and what support is out there – which includes the Everyone’s Business Advice Line
If you create a safe space, an environment where disclosures would be supported, it is more likely that those experiencing domestic abuse will find it easier to come forward and disclose.
Truly it starts with us as individuals recognising that we all have a role to play in ending domestic abuse; from believing people – listening without judgement, responding to disclosures – by offering a human response and referring to specialist support service – knowing that we don’t have to do this alone.
To access the Everyone’s Business Advice Line
For businesses who would like support in creating a domestic abuse policy and providing support for their employees, please see the Everyone’s Business Toolkit
Find out more about Hestia’s digital journey over on Catalyst’s case studies.