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Employers urged to tackle the stigma of domestic abuse

Business in the Community (BITC) has renewed calls for employers to do more on domestic abuse, following a double homicide where signs were missed

Last week a Domestic Homicide Review conducted by Lincolnshire County Council recommended that GPs could do more to spot the signs of domestic abuse, after a man shot and killed his estranged wife and daughter.

Following the news, BITC has renewed calls for employers to adopt its Domestic Abuse Toolkit, which offers information and guidance on spotting signs of domestic abuse and directs employers towards organisations that can support sufferers.

Speaking to HR magazine, Louise Aston, wellbeing director at BITC, said that increased discussion of mental health had paved the way for an open dialogue surrounding domestic abuse.

“I really think that domestic abuse is the last taboo. Ten years ago no-one was talking about mental illness or suicide within the workplace but that’s changed. We see parallels with domestic abuse, which is also seen as a private matter; as something that happens behind closed doors,” said Aston.

“But we know that domestic abuse is a problem that can’t be ignored; two women are killed every week as a result of domestic violence,” she added.

There’s still a lack of information surrounding domestic abuse, meaning that employers are missing the signs, Aston said. “Lots of people believe that men cannot be victims but we know that one in six men experience domestic abuse. A lot of people also do not recognise the different types of abuse. It’s not just physical; it can be psychological, sexual or economic,” she said.

Elizabeth Filkin, chair of the Employers' Initiative on Domestic Abuse, said that domestic abuse is an issue that should be addressed urgently by employers: “It’s very important that employers are alerted to these issues. We know of several employers who have suffered employee deaths and the terrible effects that can have on colleagues and organisations, let alone the families of the person who has been murdered."

While employers should not be expected to take the place of health professionals, BITC’s toolkit could help them to direct victims to sources of help, the organisation advised. “We don’t expect employers to be experts in spotting these issues. If they use the toolkit or the Bright Sky app, which is free to download, that can help them find the support that an individual who has experienced domestic abuse might need,” said Aston.

“It’s not asking employers to be the people who can offer that diagnosis or give them that help – it’s about letting them be the people who help them get help.”

HR has so far been instrumental in helping raise awareness in organisations and should build on this work, Filkin added. “There have been brilliant examples of people in some businesses doing things like accompanying people who have been affected to the Tube,” she said.

“HR is absolutely critical. If they are trusted people will open up to them. They are also important in a business for drawing senior management's attention that there needs to be training on domestic abuse for some staff, and proper arrangements so employees can disclose information confidentially,” she said.