How to support domestic violence sufferers at work

June 2022


Any HR professional who’s worked in the field long enough has probably dealt with at least one staff member who has suffered domestic abuse (DA). With working from home, cost-of-living pandemonium and pandemic-related stress bringing out the worst in many home situations, HR leaders need to know the best practice around this very sensitive issue, and HR Grapevine has compiled this in-depth report to help.

Words by Sarah Williams

By the numbers

Reported domestic abuse incidents rose six per cent in the year ending March 2021, according to the ONS, and was mostly driven by furlough and the extreme and constant proximity which many households experienced during multiple lockdowns. And that’s just the number reported to police – most reporting bodies estimate that only somewhere between two and 15% of people suffering DA actually report it.

Data from DA non-profit SafeLives shows that most sufferers wait between 2.3 and three years (or approximately 50 incidents of violence) before first seeking help. What’s worse, reports the charity, is that “85% of victims sought help on average five times from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse.”

The data continues:

  • “78% of high-risk victims report the abuse to the police in the year before they get effective help, on average 2.8 times each.

  • 68% of high-risk victims try to leave in the year before getting effective help, on average 2 or 3 times each.

  • 23% of high-risk victims attend A&E because of their injuries in the year before getting effective help, many multiple times.”

Meanwhile, last year, refuges from around the country reported that they had to turn sufferers down for physical spaces, or were unable to field their calls, such was the surge in number of DA cases. Simply put, this is a widespread problem – and as such, DA contingency plans and guidance must be part of HR’s strategy.

To help understand what the challenges are around identifying and supporting your employees and what skills leaders will need to do so sensitively, myGrapevine+ has pulled together insights and data, as well as speaking to both psychology and HR experts, to discuss best practice and how to handle this issue sensitively. This report includes insight from:

Emily Hawkins-Longley,
Head of People at
Hearst UK

Bertrand Stern-Gillet,
CEO at Health Assured

Dipti Tait,
Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist

Kate Palmer,
HR Advice and Consultancy
Director at Peninsula

Within this exclusive myGrapevine+ report, we’ll discuss just how widespread DA is, how to spot the signs, the best approaches to take, and what to do when it affects work.

Any policy should acknowledge the bravery of those going through this, and reference them with respect throughout [e.g., not refer to them as ‘victims].

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can take many forms, some very hard to spot – and no matter what your preconceived notions, it can happen to anyone. No one is ‘too strong’ to suffer it, and those who do suffer it are not ‘victims’ or ‘asking for it’.

The UK Government’s definition of domestic abuse is “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: the psychological, physical, sexual, financial and/or emotional.”

DA is not always the ‘classic’ take from popular media, and according to charity, these are some of the most common forms:

  • Physical violence (including forced handholding, pushing, pulling, throwing soft items)

  • Verbal/emotional (name-calling, insults, intimidation, isolation)

  • Sexual (any unwanted touching, including kissing; or forcing into forms of sex the suffer is not comfortable with)

  • Financial (insistence on joint finances, controlling purchases or spending, forbidding them to go to work or insisting on control of their paycheque/funds

  • Coercive control (monitoring time out of the house, time with friends, taking their phone/tablet, destruction of possessions, degradation, unreasonable restrictions)

  • Digital (controlling who they follow on social networks, starting constant arguments about their content, constantly texting and ringing when they’re apart)

  • Psychological (gaslighting, telling them people don’t like them, questioning their memory, denies saying things)

  • Stalking (following or watching them, consistently contacting them on phone or social media, restricting their freedom via intimidation and constant contact)


This 4,000 word report has been created by our expert team exclusively available to myGrapevine+ members.

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