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The difference a truly supportive employer can make

Suzanne Jacob is Chief Executive of SafeLives

In the last six months my dad has died and my mum has had a stroke. I don’t write about it here for sympathy or to expose family grief, but instead to explore what I’ve needed from my employer during what is still one of the most difficult periods of my life to date. It might seem odd for a charity CEO to talk about their ‘employer’. Afterall, aren’t I the boss? In reality my employer manifests in multiple ways, particularly in our Chair of Trustees, and – because we’re a small, mission driven organisation – in my relationship with the staff team. So this is my attempt to address some of my lessons learned to employers and team members in other organisations – whether voluntary, public or commercial sector.

Over the last ten months I have needed a great deal of flexibility from my employer. I have had to arrive at meetings late and leave early. I have disappeared ‘home’ 200 miles away at short notice. I have been teary in the office and had to decide how much to say about why, and I’ve worked weird times of the day and week instead of more traditional hours. I’ve checked my phone a great deal and I’m sure that multiple times I’ve looked and sounded distracted and not at my best.

Not all of these changes to my professional life would have been acceptable if I worked somewhere else. I know that. Layer that up, then, with the possibility that members of your workforce or team might need comparable levels of flexibility for less easily explicable reasons than prostate cancer and stroke.

What if, instead of common, normalised physical health issues, my behaviour in the workplace was due to the fact that I was trying to sustain myself in safety while someone systematically tried to attack it? If I wore trousers to cover cigarette burns on my legs, or I needed time off to go to court, wearing what I wanted to, what I really wanted to, for the first time in several years?

I warmly welcome the steps major UK employers such as EY and Vodafone are taking to provide their staff with compassionate leave, to deal with domestic abuse they might be experiencing or have experienced. What’s vital, as they do so and others consider it, is to think about how you create a culture in which it’s ok to ask. A couple of years ago, I spoke to a police officer who had initiated significant change in her force about the response to officers who had experienced abuse. She noticed that although they had a reasonable looking policy, there was no record of anyone having accessed it. Ever. What she realised, as she spoke to her colleagues, was that officers and staff were afraid of a set of perceptions that might be levied at them if they disclosed their situation. Melani, one of our own team and herself an ex-police officer, talks about that in more detail here.

Police officers aren’t alone in this. In another instance, I was told that the only trigger for a woman finally telling her employer what was happening outside work was because she was being put on formal performance management measures for poor attendance and inattention. Fearing the loss of her job – her only way to retain an income and the prospect of changing her situation – she took a giant leap of faith and spoke out. She disclosed to someone she barely knew, because she saw in her colleague’s diary an upcoming meeting with SafeLives. She thought it suggested someone might listen, and help.

Companies we speak to are understandably nervous about their role. Many organisations still don’t have a culture in which talking about cancer, mental health problems, or divorce would be a normal part of conversation, so how can they possibly facilitate a process of opening up about abuse? I understand that. And yet, the prize is worth it. Being able to say with authenticity that yours is an organisation where people are supported – appropriately, meaningfully supported – makes you somewhere people will want to be. And want to be their best.

Our Response to Sunday Times editorial on the Sally Challen case

The UK Government is four levels deep into Brexit. Almost no other legislation is even being contemplated, never mind progressed. And yet, despite these facts, the Government stubbornly presses on with pre legislative scrutiny for the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, published in draft a few weeks ago. Why? Because Ministers, and Parliamentarians from all sides of the House of Commons, still have room for agreement. Extreme swings to this or that position seen in Brexit haven't so far derailed this work, neither the legislation nor the funding and other surrounding effort. 

In that spirit of commitment and aspiration - that domestic abuse is a subject worth understanding and talking about - victims and survivors notice. They notice that someone is taking their life and their experience seriously.

Sarah Baxter writes that the term 'coercive control' has become fashionable. It's tempting to say that's what's been 'fashionable' for some time is writing pithy polemics that use caustic wit to minimise human misery and the complexity of certain crimes. 

Coercive control is one such complex crime. Its victims say time and again that they don't speak out 'because what would I say?' They know that the types of small, seemingly nasty but not criminal behaviours are actually a cumulative pattern of behaviour intended to entirely destroy another person's sense of self. Their confidence to be in the world. Self harming and suicide ideation amongst victims and survivors is incredibly common. But those on the outside might see no more than a slightly dysfunctional relationship. 

It's not that jolly, is it? It's difficult to think of and easier to make jokes about. But the police, CPS and judiciary are learning not to misjudge this crime. They see the humans behind the headlines and slowly things are starting to change. 

We’re presented with a major opportunity to stop hiding things we're afraid of behind closed doors. Let's not blow it for cheap gags and naive assertions. 

A Valentine's Message: Melani

This message was shared with us by Melani, a survivor of domestic abuse and SafeLives Pioneer.

 

I remember  being happy to work a late shift on Valentine's Day when no one else wanted to because they wanted to be at home with their husbands.

I thought, because he told me to think.... that I should feel happy that he was still there, in the house, living with me and our sons, because he had so many better options.

Now I know myself and our boys were his best option... only he didn’t deserve us, he hurt me and let his children down.  His violence and abuse did that.

Now I can't wait to spend those special days with my new husband and my now grown up sons love being with their partners on Valentine's Day.

If you prefer to work this Valentine's Day because you are scared at home, tell someone, ask them for help to escape.  You and your children deserve to feel safe at home.

We need your love. Donate the cost of a card or a cheap bottle of fizz, and help us to end domestic abuse this Valentine's Day 

A Valentine's Message: Vicky

This message was shared with us by Vicky, a survivor of domestic abuse and SafeLives Pioneer.

 

Valentine’s Day. 

Smiling couples, pictures on Instagram saying #blessed and the gifts and cards expressing endless love. 

But I see you. 

The false smile, the tears hidden behind your well practised pretense and the invisible scars etched on your brain from yet another put down. 

Love shouldn’t hurt but it does for you and love seems broken. 

I see you, I was just like you and I wish someone had told me this. 

You are beautiful, important and deserve to be free, you are enough and you are not alone. 

Now you see me, I’m the secret support the person you fear doesn’t need to know about. I am the voice in your brain willing you on, willing you to put one foot in front of the other. I will never ask you to fake a smile or pretend to be happy, I will encourage you to be the person you want to be.  

Love is hard but love should never hurt. 

Vicky xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need your love. Donate the cost of a card or a cheap bottle of fizz, and help us to end domestic abuse this Valentine's Day 

Looking back on three years of coercive control legislation

As we come out the other side of the Christmas festivities and look to the new year, it’s worth pausing. Today marks the three-year anniversary of coercive and controlling behaviour being established as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015.The domestic abuse sector raised a glass to celebrate this landmark day – signalling that the criminal justice system had registered the impact and seriousness of this daily, insidious abuse, where one person seeks to control another, with or without the use of physical violence.  

Three years on, we’re still thankful for that decision. We’re seeing much more understanding and awareness of the term ‘coercive control’. However, we also see how challenging coercive control is to spot and understand without the right training and resources. Legislation on its own has not proved to be the answer.  

The daily abuse of individuals in supposedly loving relationships is the root cause of multiple problems faced by individuals, families and our wider society. Over two million people experience it each year and there is a growing body of evidence to show the strong co-relation between abuse and mental ill-health, insecure housing and financial position, and vulnerability to other crime types. Despite this, only 20% of victims feel able to report their situation to the police – the true scale therefore remains a ‘hidden’ epidemic, meaning multiple missed opportunities to stop all this personal and societal harm in its tracks.  

The impact of not taking the right action - on individuals, immediate and even extended family - is devastating. At the time children start school, at least one child in every classroom will have experienced domestic abuse since they were born. These early experiences of violence and control can lead to enduring mental health consequences such as eating disorders, difficulties sleeping, anxiety issues, and the increased risk of experiencing or using abuse themselves in later life.   

The legislation on coercive control was designed to help transform the response, but data from the ONS shows that the use of this law remains patchy and inconsistent. The police recorded a total of 9,053 offences of coercive control in the year ending March 2018, but only 960 offences resulted in prosecution being taken as far as the courts. 

The police and wider criminal justice system still need a much greater understanding of abusive uses of power and control if we are to hold perpetrators to account. We cannot simply put new legislation in place and hope for the best. It must be followed up with leadership, investment and culture change to make it effective.  

Our domestic abuse change programme for the police, Domestic Abuse Matters, offers long term attitudinal and behavioural change. It helps the police understand what is meant by the term coercive control by giving them ways to walk in the shoes of those experiencing it. It also prompts them to recognise the high levels of manipulation being used by those perpetrating it, including in interactions with law enforcement. After completing our programme, 94% of first responders felt they had greater knowledge of the tactics used. Many officers have felt able to talk for the first time about their own experiences; disclosures which can only improve their own access to support and their force’s understanding of there being no ‘them and us’ about who experiences abuse.  

To date, 30% of the police forces in England, Wales and Scotland have adopted Domestic Abuse Matters. We can't stop there.  

The police face an ongoing stretch on resources. Focusing on the dynamics of domestic abuse and the behaviour of its perpetrators is not about taking them away from core business. Quite the opposite, it is getting back to the heart of policing – tackling crime before further harm occurs, both further abuse and the multiple linked crimes and harms that flow from it. If policing is to look to the future with confidence, it must get behind closed doors to prevent the crime that pervades people’s lives there and then spills out onto the streets and pervades society in so many ways.  

SafeLives, alongside thousands of other organisations and survivors, are eagerly anticipating the new Domestic Abuse Bill from the Westminster Government, delayed but now expected in January, which will aim to keep transforming the response to domestic abuse. As the coercive control legislation has shown, well intentioned words on a page will not on their own be enough. 

As we enter the new year, let’s look at how we can work together to make those words on the page a reality – protecting all those experiencing abuse and preventing future harm. A new year is always filled with possibilities. If we work together, those possibilities can end an epidemic. Wouldn’t that truly be something to celebrate? 

About SafeLives 

We are a UK charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for good. We combine insight from services, survivors and statistics to support people to become safe, well and rebuild their lives.​ ​

Last year alone, over 70,000 adults and 120,000 children received dedicated support from interventions designed with partners in the sector.​ 

Domestic abuse affects us all; it thrives on being hidden behind closed doors. We must make it everybody’s business.  

For further information and interviews, contact Natalie Mantle, Senior Communications Officer, at natalie.mantle@safelives.org.uk  

About Domestic Abuse Matters 

SafeLives’ domestic abuse programme offers real, sustainable change that makes a difference to police practice, and provides an improved response to victims and whole families experiencing domestic abuse. The programme helps forces understand what is meant by the term ‘coercive control’ and how they can spot the signs using appropriate questions and communication techniques. It also looks at the tactics used by perpetrators to control whole families and manipulate first responders.  

To date, 30% of the police forces in England, Wales and Scotland have signed up to the programme.  

For more information, visit www.safelives.org.uk/training/police or contact Melani Morgan, Programme Lead, at melani.morgan@safelives.org.uk 

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