As part of the international 16 Days of Action movement which launches today (25 November), Public Health England (PHE) South West is calling on employers across the region to play their part in tackling domestic and sexual abuse and violence.
Domestic abuse is a hugely destructive problem and employers have an important role to play in society’s response to it. Often workplaces are the only safe place for victims, offering hope of escaping abuse if the signs are spotted – but these spaces are now less accessible for those forced to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 has only exacerbated the problem for both male and female victims, with lockdown increasing the amount of time they spend at home with their abuser, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and restricting their freedom. During the first three months of lockdown, the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by the charity Refuge reported more than 40,000 calls were made.
Public Health England has partnered with Business in the Community to produce ‘Domestic Abuse: a toolkit for employers’ to help any organisation make a commitment to respond to the risk of domestic abuse. It also offers guidance on how to build an approach that ensures all employees feel supported and empowered by their workplace to deal with domestic abuse.
Tracy Daszkiewicz, Deputy Director of Population Health & Wellbeing for Public Health England South West said: “Domestic abuse is devasting and the consequences long lasting, it needs a collective effort to break the cycle. Fear of stigma and isolation stops people who experience domestic abuse from seeking help. As we all continue to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, it may be even more difficult for victims of domestic abuse to come forward.
“This toolkit supports employers to help keep staff safe from abuse at work and offers advice on how they can create a working environment that makes it easy for people to take the first step and to talk about their experience.
“We urge all employers to share information with staff on the actions they can take to protect themselves and their colleagues from harm.”
The University of Exeter has committed to making support available to members of staff who experience or witness any form of domestic abuse. Over the past year, it has become a member of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse and launched new guidance web pages, a workplace support assessment and has trained a network of 32 domestic abuse awareness champions across its Devon and Cornwall campuses, to ensure that everyone has access to support and a referral pathway.
Training has also been provided to line managers, HR advisors and the senior executive on spotting signs of domestic abuse and violence and how to signpost the affected student or staff member appropriately. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, the university has sent regular communications to line managers on ensuring their teams are safe, promoted the Bright Sky app and provided training on Honour-Based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Intimate Image Abuse.
In addition to the provisions above, to support its students and staff, the university has been working closely with Splitz (Devon) and First Light (Cornwall), made referrals to MARAC and consulted regularly with campus GPs, Student welfare team and Talkworks.
Professor Janice Kay, Provost at the University of Exeter said: “Domestic abuse is an issue that impacts many students and staff and it is important that universities lead the way to tackle it within the workplace. I am proud that the University of Exeter is a member of the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse and is taking active steps to inform our community about signs of abuse and offering support through our Domestic Abuse Awareness Champions, Independent Domestic Violence Advisors and Wellbeing and Occupational Health teams.”
Suzanne Tewkesbury, Director of Workforce and Organisational Development for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: “Domestic abuse or violence can happen to anyone and it is important that whilst we are working from home with the lack of personal contact, that we are more alert to changes in someone’s behaviour or mood. Being open to listening and if you can encourage the person to seek help. We have an opportunity with the ’16 Days of Action’ campaign to learn what we can do if we think someone might be suffering, and what help is available. As we plan to host a series of events in the coming months for our staff to raise further awareness, I am looking forward to attending one of our workshops so I myself can learn more.”
Dr Peter Aitken, Director of Research & Development for Devon Partnership NHS Trust said: “Devon Partnership NHS Trust has always taken the issue of domestic abuse seriously within our framework for Safeguarding. Sadly, the pressures of lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have added to the burden, not only for people who use our services but also for our staff. To help we are joining the Employers Initiative for Domestic Abuse, as well as supporting the 16 Days of Action campaign. This will bring the latest learning and support tools from across sectors to our Trust so we can better support our staff.”
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