During the Covid-19 crisis, there has been a rise of 49% in the number of calls to domestic abuse services in the UK, with an estimated 380 weekly calls to police. These statistics are deeply concerning, especially as we enter another lockdown, and it is estimated that the figures are likely to be much higher due to lack of reporting.
As with other forms of abuse and harassment, these are crimes which largely go on behind closed doors and during the pandemic survivors are particularly isolated, often living with their abusers.
Women who experience domestic abuse will experience 50 incidents on average before they decide to report and, as with sexual harassment and abuse cases, the law isn't up to scratch when it comes to prosecuting when incidents occured over 6 months ago.
Barriers to justice for survivors
The MU and Equity both run Safe Space services to provide confidential support and advice in harassment, abuse and bullying cases. Towards the end of last year, we were approached by a woman working in the entertainment industry who was keen to speak out about domestic abuse she'd suffered in a relationship which started at work.
Although she had evidence of physical and sexual assault and the police acknowledged that domestic abuse had taken place, they were unable to convict the perpetrator because she hadn't sought medical assistance at the time of the attacks or made her report soon enough.
The terrible experience she had reflected the experience of many women who have reported sexual harassment and abuse to us since the #metoo movement started. She was courageous in speaking out but justice was not delivered.
Like so many other survivors, her primary motivation in approaching us was to ensure that others would be protected from this happening to them. She didn't want other women working in our industry to experience the same issues and face the barriers to justice that she had.
Domestic abuse can start in the workplace
Based on this powerful testimony, Equity and the MU decided to build domestic abuse support and prevention into their Safe Space services and joint campaigning work.
We must ensure that employers and engagers are aware that domestic abuse can begin at work and that it can affect both women and men. The power imbalance often at play, the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in certain workplaces and informal ways of working mean the risk of abuse, control and coercive behaviour is high.
It should be something that is actively looked out for by colleagues and signposting of support services should be present in every workplace.
We will be campaigning on this issue throughout the year and will keep our members informed of progress and how they can support our work. Any MU and Equity member can report any abuse, harassment or bullying in confidence. Visit our website for more information on our Safe Space service.
The MU has a list of support services and other resources about domestic abuse on our website.