Beyond the headlines that we see all too often in the papers, domestic violence is a hidden epidemic – statistics tell us that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence in their adult lives. Some readers will already be very familiar with these statistics. Our question today is whether you have ever thought about these statistics in the context of your own workplace. Whatever your type of practice, and whatever the size of your firm, the chances are that you will have victims (and indeed perpetrators) of domestic violence among your employees.
We would like to share with you the experience of our two law firms – Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and Wragge & Co – as we came to these realisations concerning our own firms.
Cost to business
The business case for employers to address the impact of domestic violence in the workplace is compelling. The cost to business in the UK stands at £1.9bn per annum and it is not difficult to see how this figure arises. Some 53% of victims are absent from work at least three days a month; 56% of abused women arrive late for work at least five times per month. And 75% of victims are targeted at work – from harassing phone calls, texts and emails, to abusive partners arriving at theworkplace.
Domestic violence and abuse, as defined by new Home Office guidelines coming into effect in March 2013, is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or 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’.
This includes psychological, financial and emotional abuse, as well as the physical or sexual abuse that many of us may instinctively think of when considering what constitutes domestic violence. The breadth of this definition serves to highlight the extent of the difficulties that so many people, both men and women, face in the context of their daily domestic lives. Domestic violence and abuse is no respecter of age, class, wealth, education, gender, race or any other determinant. In a law firm, it is as likely to be happening to a partner as it is to a junior filing clerk or someone working in the postroom.
‘WE SUPPORTED A REFUGE FOR WOMEN’
‘Wragge & Co’s journey began with us supporting a refuge for women and children escaping domestic violence, as part of our community programme. But that was as far as it went. Frankly, it had not occurred to me, even as head of corporate responsibility, that we might actually have victims in our own office. I was wrong. Once I started thinking further about those statistics, I realised that this must, just on the numbers, be impacting my firm also, not only those nameless "others" that we usually think about when considering victim statistics.’
Lorna Gavin, head of corporate responsibility, Wragge & Co
Seeing the signs
What can employers do about this? Plenty. Our firms have both partnered with the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence (CAADV) and, with its help, we have taken some very simple steps which we know can have an immediate impact. We have trained our HR teams and key managers around the business in how to spot the signs that someone may be a victim. Receptionists and security guards have also been trained so that they have a plan of action to deal with abusers who try to contact victims at work. We can escort staff to their car, taxi, bus or train if we know that they are being stalked.
And raising awareness of the issue is crucial too. At both of our firms we have put up posters in every toilet cubicle. They tell real-life stories of victims, both male and female, ranging from emotional manipulation through to rape and physical violence. Sadly, many perpetrators will seek to isolate their victim and persuade them that what is happening to them is normal or in some way their own fault. By reading these posters in a safe, private environment, employees can understand that what is happening to them is not normal, not acceptable and that help is available.
Signposting is also crucial. On the posters and on our intranet sites we direct employees to the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline number (0808 2000 247). The posters have that number on tear-off slips or business cards that employees can discreetly take away with them.
We give employees links to useful websites which provide further practical help and support to victims. Our intranet materials also look at what to do if you think you, or someone you know, might be an abuser.
‘ADDRESS ISSUES IN A SIMPLE, SAFE MANNER’
‘Milbank’s journey began with an introduction to the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, whose message resonated immediately with me, both at a personal level and a business level. It was clear to me, from both a human perspective and a bottom-line perspective, that we needed to address the issues that domestic violence and abuse can create for our employees. The alliance created a means of doing this in a simple, safe, and cost-effective manner.’
Cathy Marsh, partner, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
Evidence of use
On average, two women are killed as a result of domestic violence each week and one man a fortnight dies. At Wragge & Co, on average there are between 20 and 25 new visitors to our domestic violence intranet pages each month, and they are not brief visits. At Milbank Tweed, those tear-off slips with the helpline number are still being taken from the loos. At both our firms, people have come forward to tell us they are experiencing domestic violence. These facts speak for themselves.
Cathy Marsh is a partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, while Lorna Gavin is head of corporate responsibility at Wragge & Co