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When home is not a safe place

Posted by Ann Caluori | Tue, 26/05/2020 - 12:27


Guest blog by Kathryn Hinchliff, Senior Practice Advisor at SafeLives


For the last two months the message has been clear: Stay At Home. But home is not a safe place for everyone, and that is particularly the case for families experiencing domestic abuse. Some of these families will be your clients and colleagues.


Many victims of domestic abuse are already experiencing high levels of fear, control and coercion from their partner, lockdown will exacerbate this and create additional risks. One survivor of abuse described how she felt like she was treading on eggshells during the abusive relationship but that victims experiencing abuse will now feel like they are walking on glass.


Research from other countries exiting lockdown has shown an increase in the rates and severity of domestic abuse. In the Hubei Province, for example, domestic violence reports to police more than tripled.


We have traditionally asked victims of abuse to reach out for help but lockdown measures have made it much more difficult for them to do this. Opportunities to access support are reduced as making phone calls or visiting services is so much harder. That’s why we need to Reach In. It is up to us as employers, colleagues and professionals to actively create opportunities to do that.


Advice for employers

It is important for all of us to raise awareness of domestic abuse, the support available and how it can be accessed securely. Domestic abuse thrives in secrecy. By creating an environment where there is ‘no them and us’, without stigma and where it feels safe to talk, people will feel more able to disclose their experiences and seek help. For further information on how employers can support their staff SafeLives have created this guidance.


Let staff know that as an employer you are concerned for their welfare and that if they disclose abuse, they will be helped to access support if it is safe to do so. You can do this in lots of ways, for example, by including details about support in your internal comms, such as your staff intranet and regular documents received by employees, such as payslips.


A lot of staff experiencing domestic abuse will have used their work environment as a safe space to access specialist support and will now need an alternative. For example, they may need information about online support available and tech security tips, such as how to hide browsing history.


Ensure that line managers have sufficient structured contact with all their team members, including any who are subject to sickness leave or furloughing. Contact with an employer may be an opportunity for someone who is still living with an abuser to have a ‘legitimate’ link to the outside world.


Line managers may be in the best possible position to check in with someone who is isolated and may be at risk. Offer them support and basic training, so that they feel confident talking to their teams about domestic abuse and know what support is available. They don’t have to be experts – they just need to know how to respond appropriately.


Possible signs of abuse:

You may notice changes in behaviour in your colleagues, staff or clients. This could include:

  • Acting in a way that is unusual or out of character for them
  • Withdrawing from previous sources of support such as team chat threads or catch-ups 
  • Wariness or anxiety about their partner or a family member coming into the room whilst you are speaking with them
  • Reluctance to talk about their home situation or avoiding answering questions about it 
  • Signs of tension, such as audible conflict in the home, shouting at children or others

None of these things will specifically indicate that they are experiencing domestic abuse but they do suggest that they are struggling with something and may require help with that issue, so it is important that you explore it with them and identify appropriate support.


If you are worried about someone

It can feel difficult to know what to do if you are worried about someone and how to talk to them about it. SafeLives have produced guidance for friends and family, alongside Dr Alison Gregory, a researcher at Bristol University who specialises in domestic abuse and informal support networks. Equation have released helpful guidance on what to say if you think a friend is experiencing domestic abuse.


Not everyone identifies with the label domestic abuse so it is important to think about other ways you can ask the question:


“You haven’t been in touch much lately. Is everything ok?”

“I’ve noticed you seem a bit down. Has anyone upset you?”

“I’m worried about you, you seem scared.”


And if someone does disclose abuse it is vital you respond positively:


“I believe you.”

“This is not your fault.”

“I’m worried about you and I want to help.”


If you believe someone is in immediate danger please call 999 and ask for the police. To get further advice and support for someone you may find the following resources useful:  


Resources for victims/survivors

SafeLives staying safe at home guidance

Chayn Soul Medicine

SafeLives guide to staying safe online

The Survivors Handbook, Women's Aid

Guidance on Economic Abuse during COVID-19, Surviving Economic Abuse


Telephone and email support

England: Freephone 24h National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Scotland: 247 Scotland’s 24h Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline 0800 027 1234

Northern Ireland: 24h Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414

Wales: 24h Life Fear Free Helpline: 0808 80 10 800

Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327

LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428

Karma Nirvana, UK Helpline for ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage: 0800 5999 247


Respect Helpline for those that are worried about their own behaviour: 0808 802 4040