Domestic violence

Domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse) can happen to anyone. It includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, enacted by a partner or other family member. In 2019, a Crime Survey of England study revealed that around 2.5 million adults in the UK experienced some form of domestic abuse in the year prior to being surveyed.

What are the types and signs of domestic violence or abuse?

Emotional abuse can involve:

  • Isolating the person from their friends or family
  • Making unreasonable demands on the person’s attention
  • Monitoring the person’s social media
  • Accusing the person of flirting with another person or cheating (sign of an emotionally abusive relationship in particular).
  • Threatening the person in various ways
  • Invading the person’s space

Types of physical abuse include:

  • Choking or restraining
  • Biting or kicking
  • Burning
  • Hitting or punching

Some examples of sexual abuse are:

  • Touching the person in unwanted ways or places
  • Hurting the person during sex
  • Pressuring the person to have sex, or have sex without a condom

Non-consensual sex constitutes rape and it is a crime in its own right.

Domestic abuse also encompasses FGM (female genital mutilation), forced marriage, human trafficking and modern slavery.

Both genders are victims of domestic abuse (695,000 men having reported being subject to domestic abuse between 2017 and 2018 in the UK). A third of cases of domestic abuse against a female partner occur during pregnancy. 

How can someone get help relating to their domestic abuse or violence?

There are many charities (some of which are linked in the signposting section of this page) which can provide confidential advice for victims of domestic abuse.

If the person decides to leave their domestic setting where the abuse is taking places, there are refuges and temporary accommodation available throughout the UK through various charities.

A GP can also refer someone who has been subject to domestic abuse to the relevant sources of help. For example, a counselling or other mental health service, to help them deal with their abusive experiences.

The UK Government has published specific guidance on coping with domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, since it is recognised that confinement to the home over an extended period is particularly anxiety-provoking for someone experiencing domestic abuse and, in some cases, increasingly dangerous.

UK Says No More is an organisation which supports pharmacies across the country to provide safe spaces for people experiencing domestic abuse seeking support – a service which is all the more crucial during the pandemic.

Someone can report domestic abuse to the police on 999, including on behalf of someone else. There is also a silent call function for people who are not safe to make a verbal call. This can be activated by ringing 999, then pressing 55.

There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for someone who may be subject to domestic violence or abuse:

Employers are being increasingly encouraged to help employees who are, or may be, experiencing domestic abuse. 

Public Health England domestic abuse toolkit was published in 2018, outlining guidance for employers on helping tackle domestic abuse among their employees.

Statistics published in the introduction to the toolkit state that over half of medium and large employers surveyed saw increased rates of absenteeism in employees experiencing domestic abuse, as well as reduced performance.

As employers are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment as part of their duty of care to employees, they should encourage employees to disclose domestic abuse and subsequently, implement reasonable adjustments or seek to help in other ways.

How can employers respond to employees experiencing domestic abuse?

The aforementioned Public Health England toolkit recommends that employers take the following three-step approach:

  • Acknowledge the abuse by encouraging employees to disclose and discuss it
  • Respond by reviewing workplace safeguarding policies and ensuring that employees are given the support they need in the workplace
  • Refer the employee(s) to charities who can help advise them on how to deal with their domestic abuse in the short and longer terms (see signposting section).

Reasonable adjustments should also be made in accordance with the employee’s need for support if their situation is covered by the Equality Act – including long-term mental health difficulties such as anxiety or PTSD, physical injuries, etc.

Some reasonable adjustments to allow an employee experiencing domestic abuse to work as effectively and comfortably might include:

  • Flexible working hours to accommodate an employee’s medical/therapy appointments if they are seeking help to improve their mental or physical health linked to the domestic abuse they are, or have been, subject to.
  • Adjustments to duties depending on the extent of the impact of a domestic abuse-related condition on the employee. If an employee is struggling with stress or anxiety, they may be best taking on lighter, less taxing duties, for example.
  • Working from the office as opposed to from home which is especially relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic when many people are working from home. If this will be difficult for the employee, an employer may wish to offer an alternative workspace away from the family home. This also applies to staying away from work while having to self-isolate with Covid-19 or symptoms – people experiencing domestic abuse do not have to self-isolate if this would prevent them from escaping.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the importance of domestic abuse awareness and indicators that someone may be a victim, as well as so that they can be mindful that a colleague may be dealing with domestic abuse themselves.

Domestic abuse Signposting

Women’s Aid – charity working to create and curate resources relating to domestic abuse and to improve the response to people who require help to escape from, or recover from the effects of domestic abuse. The charity campaigns fore greater awareness of domestic abuse and educates people on how to identify the signs of a domestic abuse victim, etc.

Refuge – charity providing services to allow survivors to get the help they need and begin to live a normal life after escaping abuse. This includes temporary accommodation, advocacy as well as cultural and gender-specific services tailored to helping survivors who have experienced abuse specific to their demographic (0808 2000 247).

Woman’s Trust – specialist mental health charity providing counselling and therapy for female survivors of domestic abuse, both through one-to-one therapy sessions over the phone and group video sessions. The charity also raises money to help female survivors financially (020 7034 0303).

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