Domestic violence hitting home at work

When Malcolm Turnbull came into office as Prime Minister, he made Australia's disturbingly high rates of violence against women his first order of business, promising a $100 million package of measures to protect victims of domestic and family violence.

The private sector also means business. Soon-to-retire ANZ chief executive Mike Smith is leading a national campaign to encourage other companies to take action. Rio Tinto is extending its zero harm policy at work to zero harm policy at home, and Telstra is taking similar measures when work email or phones are used to commit abuse.

With the increased focus on what organisations can do in this space, and with White Ribbon Day this week (November 25), En Masse is increasingly working with businesses to embed a culture of awareness and healthy conversations around domestic violence, helping them get on the front foot in both preventing and dealing with the issue.

How serious is it?

With nearly 30 percent of women experiencing some form of intimate partner violence, this is a national problem that cannot be ignored.

Just doing the numbers, we employ about 30,000 people so 10,000 of our workforce have been subjected to some form of abuse and that, frankly, is very confronting,
— Mike Smith from ANZ recently told Financial Review.

Advocates for social change, law enforcement professionals, medical and allied health professionals alike agree that it’s time open the lines of communication around the nature and impacts of domestic violence, to start a conversation in order to support victims and create the change needed to prevent it.

Nearly one woman in Australia is killed every week by intimate partner violence, and one in four women report having experienced some form of violence at the hands of a partner or former partner at some point in their lives. Given these staggering numbers, it is likely that every one of us knows someone who is facing, or has faced domestic violence.

Due to the nature of domestic violence, often involving violence in intimate relationships and behind closed doors, many cases go unreported or unrecognised, and the statistics mentioned may not reflect the true cost and extent of domestic violence across Australia.

Understanding the issue

Domestic violence is an exercise of power or control of one person to the detriment of another, potentially an entire family.

The impacts of domestic violence on its victims cannot be understated. Acts of violence seek to make the victim subordinate or feel ‘less than’ the perpetrator, undermining their confidence and ability to leave the violent person. This is often an ongoing behaviour that escalates over time, and can happen in many different ways. The most commonly reported forms of domestic violence include:

  • Physical abuse and intimidation, or threats of physical violence
  • Emotional abuse, such as verbal insults and humiliation
  • Economic abuse, where you are denied financial independence and have a partner controlling your money
  • Social abuse, including isolating you or denying access to friends and family.

There are multiples forms of domestic violence, and they can be mutually reinforcing. While physical violence may be the most visible form, others such as sexual, emotional, social, spiritual and economic abuse can be equally harmful.

Impact on mental health

The experience of domestic violence can disrupt and have a significant impact on a victim’s life across various spheres, including home, work and community, and can affect an individual’s mental health.

Domestic violence has a negative impact on self-esteem, sense of self-efficacy, and physical and mental wellbeing. As a result, all forms of partner violence are significantly associated with an increase in mental health issues and depressive symptoms for both men and women.

Increased stress and relationship issues in our personal lives obviously have an impact at work, affecting our performance, productivity and engagement.

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Speaking out

Research shows that the more people know about gender violence and discrimination, the more they are able and willing to stand up to it. Awareness is therefore the first step in preventing and reducing domestic violence, and goes a long way towards reducing stigma.

We can break down the stigma surrounding situation of domestic violence by openly speaking about the issue. Reducing stigma makes those experiencing domestic violence more likely to feel comfortable speaking out about their experience, and can help create social change.

Know the signs

It is important to develop awareness on the potential signs of domestic violence, so we can spot them when they occur. Early intervention is key to getting victims out of situations of domestic violence and on the road to support and recovery.

The most obvious signs of domestic violence are physical, and include:

  • bruising, especially of the face arms and neck
  • unexplained injury
  • re-occurring injuries.

Mental, emotional and behavioural symptoms can also manifest in response to domestic violence. Some of the signs and symptoms include:

  • isolating and withdrawing socially
  • heightened anxiety
  • symptoms of depression or other mental health issues
  • changes in performance at work
  • increased absenteeism
  • any other unusual change in behaviour.

None of these symptoms by themselves necessarily indicates the presence of domestic violence. However, a number of symptoms occurring at the same time may alert you to the possibility.

Some first responses

If you have noticed signs and symptoms of domestic violence, or believe you are experiencing domestic violence, then it is time to take action. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start a conversation with someone you suspect may be a victim of domestic violence. Be sensitive, have conversations in a quiet or private setting, and ask open ended questions. For example, you might like to say ‘I’ve noticed you seem really quiet lately and aren’t your usual self, is everything ok?’ This approach is non-threatening and allows the person to open up if they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Listen. Show compassion and concern by listening if someone opens up to you about experiencing domestic violence. This will also ensure you understand all the facts and are better able to support the person. In order to really listen , you need to reduce distractions, maintain regular eye contact throughout the conversation and give affirming and reassuring nods to show you are hearing them. Repeat key details back to the speaker to confirm your own understanding of what they have said and demonstrate you have listened to them.
  • Seek support or facilitate access to support. It can be difficult for victims to leave situations of domestic violence for a multitude of reasons, including: escalation of violence, financial dependence, lack of resources or social support, or being tied to the offender through children or other family members. Taking action to offer support to those who may be experiencing domestic violence is essential to helping them overcome these obstacles.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from domestic violence it is essential that you seek support (see list of resources at the end). You can also extend the support of friendship by letting the other person know you are there for them. For those suffering from domestic violence, reach out and seek support in whichever way feels comfortable. The important thing is not to go it alone.

Of course, if you believe someone is in imminent danger, that there is a serious threat to their life, health or safety contact the police or call 000 immediately.

You’re not alone

Domestic violence, in its many forms, affects women in Australia everyday. If you are experiencing domestic violence, or are concerned that somebody you know is, then you are not alone. As individuals and as a society, we need to tackle domestic violence by lifting the veils that surround it and opening the lines of communication.

Resources and support

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line. For any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
  • Lifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your State (24 hours) 131 114
  • Relationships Australia. Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners. 1300-364-277 or Vic (03) 9261-8700. Website: www.relationships.com.au
  • 000 Police or Ambulance. Call anytime if you feel that you, your children or someone you know is in immediate danger.

For some specialist workshops on domestic violence or to discuss ideas on how you can promote change at your workplace, contact me at En Masse on 03 9429 8441.