Commissioner Baird speaks out on helping victims of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is not usually a one-off violent attack. More often it is a deliberate long-term use of coercion to control every part of someone’s life, It can be sexual abuse, financial control, constant criticism, isolation from family and friends, repeated threatening texts or stalking whenever the victim is out of sight – all are familiar tools adopted by the abuser. It undermines the victims confidence and freedom and it can leave long-term scars.

Despite people knowing more about it these days, according to research by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), 84 per cent of people surveyed do not feel able to help when they know someone is suffering from domestic abuse.

The research also reveals that 31 per cent of British adults questioned knew a victim – maybe you do.

While the CAB’s ‘Link in the chain’ report is right in acknowledging the role friends and family play in recognising that someone is suffering behind closed doors, the responsibility to help doesn’t just fall on those who are personally close to the victim, after all, they may be personally close to the perpetrator too.

For this reason, we have looked for places, away from the family and home, where it might be possible to make help more available and have realised that the workplace is somewhere that many victims of abuse can see as a safe haven. On average we spend a third of our lives at work, there is therefore a huge opportunity for colleagues to pick up on the signs during what for many victims are the hours of respite from their suffering and where people might feel secure enough to talk to a friend or a colleague or ask for help.

In Northumbria we have developed a draft workplace employers’ policy has been set up, ready off the shelf, which has been adopted by many organisations. It sends out clear signs that they will help any employee who is suffering from abuse and that they have all practical steps to support employees firmly in place.

As part of this, we introduced the concept of a network of Domestic Violence Champions within each workplace, large or small. These champions, who are workplace colleagues, are there for men and women to confide in, or share concerns about others who they think may be suffering from domestic abuse. The champion, who receives full training, can then offer advice on the support available both within the organisation and from partner agencies. They are not expected to solve the problem themselves but calmly give ‘first aid’ and help to refer them on to skilled help. So far over 600 champions have been trained.

One champion arranged with their employer for a victim’s calls to be screened, emails to be blocked and photos of the abuser left with reception so he could be recognised and appropriate steps taken. Someone now a successful businesswoman tells how her employer got to know of her plight with a determined abuser and secretly arranged to relocate her to a distant branch of the business; she regards this as likely to have saved her life. And every time a champion is trained it is another person raising public awareness of what this abuse is like.

We can provide free training to raise awareness of domestic abuse and the impact it can have on individuals to employers and employees. Those who take this up have already seen results like the ones I have mentioned. Do join our efforts; this is everyone’s business and a little knowledge and support can make all the difference to the life of a victim who thought they were friendless.

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