A Scottish charity has urged employers to act now to support women experiencing domestic abuse during the lockdown period and beyond.
Grampian Women’s Aid, the leading specialist domestic abuse charity in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire supporting women, children and young people, has called for support for women who may be experiencing domestic abuse when working from home and returning to the work setting.
The charity has seen a steady increase week on week with referrals since the Scottish Government announced lockdown restrictions were being lifted, with around 82 women referred during the month of June alone.
Alison Hay, development lead at the organisation, said: “Staff affected by domestic abuse often do not disclose to their employer because they are concerned they will not be believed, or that they will not be supported.
“It is therefore important to make sure that staff feel safe to disclose, and when they do, they do not face a negative response.”
Employers have been urged to look out for signs that an employee is experiencing domestic abuse at home, including visible injuries, a change to work output, nervousness or increased anxiety about their partner coming into the room, reluctance to appear on the phone or on video, and unexplained sickness.
Developing a workplace domestic abuse policy is another avenue that the charity is promoting, to allow employers to best support the needs of staff.
“We have spoken to some women who said they haven’t been able to work because of childcare responsibilities, as they have been coerced into thinking that it was their responsibility and not the dad’s,” Ms Hay said.
She added: “There’s a big escalation in terms of coercive control because of the threat of Covid-19. Women are very anxious about what the future will hold.”
Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin said lockdown has been “particularly hard” for women trapped in abusive relationships.
She added: “It is hugely important that employers know how vital they are in supporting women as they try to leave abusive partners.
“Economic stability is the main concern for these women, and often the main threat from coercive partners.
“I’d urge all employers to get in touch with Grampian Women’s Aid for information on how they can spot the signs of abuse, and how they can support their employees under threat.”
It is hugely important that employers know how vital they are in supporting women as they try to leave abusive partners.”
Gillian Martin, Aberdeenshire East MSP
Angus Women’s Aid has also developed a domestic abuse workplace policy that is available for interested firms to implement.
Anne Robertson-Brown, executive director of the charity, said they are “pro-active” in this area.
She added: “We have been involved with several employers who have asked us to help them to adapt or write new procedures ahead of coming back, including code words for women.”
Since March, when the country went into lockdown, the Angus charity has had more than 130 new referrals from women seeking support, and has taken thousands of calls.
There has been an increase in financial abuse and control during lockdown, the charity boss said.
She added: “We are seeing very high levels of anxiety.
“Women are being told by partners they would be charged with wasting police time.”
Well said @scotwomensaid -Covid-19 and stress about the pandemic is not causing domestic abuse – domestic abuse is an abuser’s choice, always.
“However, lockdown and associated measures have given abusers more tools to control, isolate and harm women, children and young people.
— Angus Women's Aid (@aware30) June 26, 2020
The First Minister announced in March that £1.5 million will be given to Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure access to these services during the pandemic.
Speaking at the time, she said: “The key message is: people who are suffering domestic abuse do not have to wait to seek help.”
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary and north-east MSP Liam Kerr said domestic abuse charities do a “fantastic job” in supporting victims of domestic abuse who “may not have otherwise had a channel to report their concerns”.
He added: “I thoroughly support the charities in calling on employers to act now and spot the signs of abuse.
“The rise in the number of calls to these charities is alarming and extremely concerning but these victims should be commended for speaking out on these shocking cases.
“This increase highlights that private and virtual spaces are not safe places for everyone and, for some people, the stay at home guidance has exposed them to a greater risk of abuse, harm and neglect.
“I know Police Scotland is continuing to work with these charities to ensure victims in the north-east are given the vital support they need and deserve during these particularly challenging times.”
The rise in the number of calls to these charities is alarming and extremely concerning but these victims should be commended for speaking out on these shocking cases.”
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman and north-east MSP
Meanwhile, Elaine Fetherston, executive manager of Inverness Women’s Aid, said employers recognising signs of domestic abuse is an area that needs “even more work because everybody needs to be alerted that something might be going on”.
Calls to the north charity have been “steady” but it has not witnessed a rise in referrals, like some of the other organisations, but has had more requests for advice.
Ms Fetherston said many of the women they support are single mothers whose partners may be using a variety of techniques, including depriving women of seeing their children or not sharing childcare.
But, in other ways, the lockdown has helped limit the movements of perpetrators while “tighter” restrictions have been put in place for those under bail conditions, which is something the charity boss would like to see continued in the future to protect women.
Where to find support?
Women seeking support during this time can still contact Grampian Women’s Aid by calling 01224 593381 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting grampian-womens-aid.com/contact-us/
Angus Women’s Aid can be contacted on 01241 439437 and Inverness Women’s Aid can be reached on 01463 220719.
When phone lines are closed, Scotland’s Domestic Abuse & Forced Marriage helpline is always available on 0800 027 1234 or email@example.com
In an emergency situation call 999.
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