Q&A with Jennifer Cirone, Senior Manager at Solace
Do you think Labour’s proposal for paid leave will help victims of domestic violence? Why?
Solace very much welcomes this proposal following the implementation of legislation in New Zealand to provide survivors with 10 days paid leave from work. Due to the complex and repeated nature of domestic abuse, survivors have multiple needs and these can include immediate safety and safe accommodation, finances, mental and physical health and children. Women preparing to safely leave need time to work with a domestic abuse professional to do this safely. Even when a woman has left the abusive situation, there are practical and emotional needs for many months and years after. These can include supporting the children with schooling and making sense of their situation, attending family and criminal court, dealing with economic abuse, finding safe and appropriate longer term housing. Providing some time to deal with these matters is essential no matter where that survivor and children are on their journey to recovery from abuse.
Is 10 days enough? Why/why not?
It is a very useful starting point. At present, good employers are working with their staff and organisations such as Solace to provide a few days compassionate and unpaid leave and to provide some flexibility for survivors.
"The reality is that many survivors have experienced years of trauma and recovery from emotional and practical issues can take many years."
Survivors are often very resilient and resourceful because of what they have experienced and many will be able to achieve an awful lot of progress in deciding what they want to do and taking action. One way to think of it is to provide some breathing space, to allow a survivor to be supported along the right path to long term recovery.
Why is the workplace a suitable place for survivors to seek help?
Being in work is a major protective factor for women. The working day and contact with others provides a space for action for many women experiencing abuse. Having your own money and economic freedom is also very protective and it is for this reason we provide lots of services around employment training and education for our women in our services. Perpetrators of abuse very often seek to isolate and prevent women working for these very reasons. The paid leave provision would give survivors confidence that they can be supported to explore options whilst retaining their jobs. There is a legal requirement for employers to provide support to their colleagues if they become aware that they are experiencing domestic abuse and this is called a duty of care. At Solace we are really keen to empower employers with the right information, skills and approach through our program of training.
Should employers be made aware if their employees are experiencing domestic violence? How else could/should they support them?
We always talk to women who we are working about supporting them to talk to their employers as many women do find this helpful. We have worked with many employers who have done some excellent practical things such as transferring the woman to another location, giving time off to attend court and counselling appointments, changing working hours so that the woman is leaving and arriving at different times each day, asking colleagues to be cautious about visitors and callers. Virtually all women experiencing abuse are isolated by their perpetrator of abuse and the simple act of being able to talk to someone who is safe, non-judgmental and kind can be remarkably transformative for survivors, it is the beginning of realising you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault. This is something that employers can be easily supported to provide with a bit of help from specialist organisations.
Are there any flaws in the proposal? Will domestic violence survivors be able to safely discuss the issue with their employers, for instance, or could their abusive partners find out?
This is where working with domestic abuse specialists such as Solace can be very helpful. It is very important that survivors are believed and that we do not increase risk to them by doing unsafe things such as mediating with the perpetrator of abuse or colluding in other ways. Good employers have domestic abuse policies which clearly set out what domestic abuse is, what the barriers to making change can be, how to recognise potential abuse and raise sensitively, how to respond to concerns and what practical steps they and specialists can take to increase emotional and practical safety.
How else could the government or other institutions support survivors of domestic violence? Are there other provisions you think the upcoming domestic violence bill needs to include?
It would be really good to have a whole systems review of all of the current things we have in place to assist survivors of abuse and align these to produce a joined up approach. For example, survivors fleeing to a refuge can claim dual housing benefit for their refuge space and former property for up to a year. There is also an easement for survivors who have fled and claiming benefits which waive the requirement to seek work for up to 13 weeks. It would be great to see some time alignment with measures such as these to enable survivors some space and time to recover. I heard yesterday that financial institutions will soon be introducing a code of conduct to better support those experiencing abuse which will also be very welcome. Availability of safe and suitable move on accommodation for many single women and families also remains a big challenge and we would welcome any ways in which we can work together to improve this.
What about survivors who don’t work, or work with little contact with workmates or managers — how can they be supported?
At Solace we try to be very proactive with organisations that survivors may come into contact with and ensure that we have literature available and also professionals know who we are and how to signpost and refer. An example of this is our IRIS program – Identification of Risk to Increase Safety where we work with GP Surgeries to help them identify people experiencing domestic abuse and arrange a quick referral to an advocate who can work with the survivor to identify options for them. We have a number of community based services that can work with women and these include safety planning, housing, legal, immigration, yoga, drama, singing, massage and peer support. Survivors will have different needs and from our experience, offering them choice and opportunity is vital for empowering them to recover from what they have experienced. Having opportunities to meet other women who may have similar experiences to them and are at different stages of their journey is incredibly motivational and supportive.
Extracts of this article first appeared in Bustle.UK here
Thanks to journalist Emily Dixon