Interview with Meena Kumari – National Lead for Domestic Abuse & Sexual Violence

July 23, 2017

Domestic Abuse – Helping HR to Support Employees

Can you give us an overview of how Victim Support work with victims of domestic abuse?

We believe that all survivors of domestic abuse should be able to get the support they need to move on from the impact of abuse. We don’t just help people who’ve recently experienced domestic abuse — we’re here to support both men and women, weeks, months and years afterwards. We have different services in different parts of the country. All of our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s experienced domestic abuse We can help, regardless of whether you’ve told the police or anyone else about the abuse.

Our IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Advisors) services are staffed by specialist caseworkers and supported by specialist volunteers. We refer High Risk Cases to Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences
(MARAC).  These workers will help people who have suffered domestic abuse to decide what action they want to take and the support and help that feels right for them. IDVAs often support survivors through the criminal justice system, if they choose to report the crime, and co-ordinate health and support services.

We have domestic abuse outreach services, which are provided by specialist caseworkers and volunteers who will work with victims in the community, co-ordinating support and providing direct practical and emotional support. We work from health settings, police stations, hospitals and community centres to provide information and support to a wide number of people.

What part do you play in the organisation?

I started working in Domestic Abuse in 2005 when I first left university. My first job in the sector was as a Domestic Abuse Helpline Co-ordinator for a local charity in Leicester. Within the past 13 years I have worked front line with victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse. I am also a qualified trainer and deliver training nationally as a self-employed consultant focussing on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). I joined Victim Support in 2016 to look at best practice and facilitate change relating to the delivery of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

What is domestic abuse?

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is, (this is not a legal definition) any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

• Psychological
• Physical
• Sexual
• Financial
• Emotional
• Stalking
• Honour-based violence
• Forced marriage
• Female genital mutilation (FGM)

How many people are affected by domestic abuse?

Key statistics about domestic abuse in England and Wales

• Each year an estimated 1.9m people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims (4%) ²
• Each year more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse ³
• Women are much more likely than men to be the victims of high risk or severe domestic abuse: 95% of those going to Marac or accessing an Idva service are women⁴
• A large number of domestic abuse-related incidents were recorded by the police (1.03 million) in the year ending March 2016. Following investigations, the police concluded that a domestic abuse-related criminal offence was committed in approximately 4 in every 10 (41%) of these incidents (421,000). Domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by the police accounted for approximately 1 in 10 of all crimes. The majority of domestic abuse (78%) consisted of violence against the person offences⁵

• Seven women a month are killed by a current
or former partner in England and Wales. many survivors do not report abuse to the police 2
• 130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk domestic abuse 3
• 62% of children living with domestic abuse are directly harmed by the perpetrator of the abuse, in addition to the harm caused by witnessing the abuse of others 1
• On average High Risk Victims live with domestic abuse for 2.3 years before getting help 4
• 85% of High Risk Victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse 4

The cost to individuals cannot be measured, but the costs of violence and abuse to the economy can be calculated and are considerable. Sylvia Walby’s report estimates that providing public services to victims of domestic violence and the lost economic output of women affected costs the UK £15.8 billion annually. The cost to health, housing and social services, criminal justice and civil legal services is estimated at £3.9 billion.

Do HR have a role to play in supporting employees?

Domestic Abuse can seem like a personal issue but can have an effect on an individual whilst they are at work. However, in your role as a good employer, it is important to support any employee experiencing difficulties.
Employees experiencing domestic abuse could exhibit a variety of behaviors or not show anything. Some of the things i have seen in the past have been where an employee may be consistently late for work, performance could drop suddenly because of all the stress they are enduring. Also if you are in a coercive and controlling relationship the individual being abused could feel they are consistenly walking on eggshells not wanting to upset thier abuser.
It’s one of the issues that remains behind closed doors as survivors feel unsure about speaking out. They don’t know whether they will be supported. This is because those who are on the receiving end of the disclosure may not know what to do.

A good robust DA policy will support the employee and employer to have a better understanding of what the issues are for the victim and what the employer can do to support them. You also have to be mindful that the abuser may also be working in the place thus you have a responsibility to safeguard that victim and ensure that appropriate steps are put in place.

How do you support HR leaders to best support victims?

Victim Support have supported HR leaders through offering talks and presentations in domestic abuse and sexual abuse/assault which enables them to improve their knowledge and ask questions. We also hold stalls at engagement events where we can speak to staff directly and also host a huge source of information on our website that employers can access:

What do you think needs to fundamentally change to end domestic abuse?

Having worked in the sector for over 13 years I believe the main areas we need to focus on is:

• Preventing violence and abuse from happening
in the first place will make a significant difference to overall prevalence of these crimes. Educating, informing and challenging young people about healthy relationships, abuse and consent is a start. Also educating professionals, people in the workplace and raising awareness.
• Provision of services – local commissioners need to ensure they deliver a secure future for domestic abuse services, rape support centres, refuges and FGM and Forced Marriage Units, whilst driving
a major change across all services so that early intervention and prevention is key.
• Partnership working – this is key due to the nature and complexity of domestic abuse and it cannot be worked on alone. Services need to work together to tackle this issue. The most effective areas have strong partnership arrangements across national, regional and local boundaries; helping victims and providing an effective first response to violence and abuse.
• Pursuing perpetrators- we have to ensure services are holding perpetrators to account and the legal system reflects this. The new offence of domestic abuse not only addresses a gap in the law by targeting coercive and controlling behaviour,
but will help to support a culture change which refocuses the criminal justice system’s response on recognising and addressing patterns of abuse rather than single incidents, and intervening at the earliest opportunity.

The future

The government’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls follows confirmation in the recent Queen’s Speech of the forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. It will include a consolidated new Domestic Abuse Prevention and Protection order, and enshrine a definition of domestic abuse in law. It will establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner to ensure victims and survivors’ voices are heard. The legislation will allow the government to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which will enable UK courts to prosecute British citizens for domestic abuse regardless of where in the world the offence was committed. The bill will also ensure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, then the court can hand down a sentence which reflects the devastating and life-long impact that abuse can have.