For nearly six years ‘Michelle’ used work as an escape, volunteering for extra hours in a bid to stay away from an abusive partner at home.
The 30-year-old mother says she felt let down by employers who failed to support her.
“I lost a lot of jobs from having to ring up and say I can’t come in. If they were more supportive, I would’ve been more open about what was really happening at home, rather than feeling nervous that I was going to lose my job because I had a black eye or a fag burn.”
Being in and out of employment meant Michelle (not her real name) was financially dependent on her abusive partner, unable to see a way out.
“When I wasn’t at work, it was: ‘You should get a job, you’re worthless’.
“I wanted to take on as many hours as they could give me. It made me feel safer.”
While more than 2.4 million people are affected by domestic violence every year, it can be difficult for employers to recognise the signs and support those experiencing domestic abuse in their organisation.
On Wednesday the charity Hestia, which supports vulnerable people, launched the Everyone’s Business helpline for companies to promote increased awareness and support in the workplace.
Funded by the Home Office, it aims to be a point of contact for employers particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins said: “Domestic abuse affects people in all parts of the economy and employers can play a crucial role in helping staff who are victims of this appalling crime.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the need for victims to have as many sources of support as possible.”
A quarter of women and 1 in 6 men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime.
Research has shown that fewer than a third of victims disclose abuse at work, citing feelings of shame and privacy, despite almost nine out of ten employers agreeing they have a duty of care to support their staff.
Hestia says lockdown has shown that home is not always safe for everyone, and with more people working remotely due to coronavirus cases of domestic abuse are rising.
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“Domestic abuse is everybody’s business,” said Lyndsey Dearlove, Head of the Everyone’s Business advice line at Hestia.
“We know that friends, family members and colleagues play a vital role in providing support to specialist domestic abuse services.
“So if an employer takes it upon themselves and actually creates that cultural awareness and embeds it in their practice, it can have a massive impact and enable many more people to access help.”
The charity saw a 47% increase in people downloading its free domestic abuse app, Bright Sky, during lockdown.
Ms Dearlove says businesses play a significant role in supporting those who experience domestic abuse.
“Ultimately one of the most unmonitored channels of communication can be that between an employee and an employer….knowing that you could turn to your employer to access help is really important.”