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How to Help a Colleague Who Is Experiencing Violence?

How to recognise a victim of domestic violence?

Many signs of violence are meticulously hidden. If you suspect that your colleague is suffering violence, but you are not sure, pay attention to the following:

Possible signs of violence

Physical

Psychological/behavioural

  • Bruises, scratches, hematomas that cannot be reasonably explained
  • Constantly being late;
  • Regular calls form the partner or spouse;
  • Unexpected visits by the partner or spouse at work;
  • Unexpected absence from work, inexplicable illness;
  • Changes in appearance;
  • Shyness, anxiety or depressive mood;
  • Constant tension, anxiety;
  • Eating or sleep disorders;
  • Chronic or vague health complaints;
  • Lack of concentration;
  • Difficulty in making decisions;
  • Flowers or gifts sent to work without any explanation or special occasion
  • Changes in behaviour and performance at work

How to approach a victim confidentially and personally.

1. Avoid asking questions when other people are present.

2. Explain that you have noticed things that alarm you. 

  • “I am worried, is everything ok at home? Is anyone hurting you?”
  • “Nobody deserves to be treated like this.”

3. If the colleague denies violence do not push them and do not insist on an answer.

4. Let the colleague know that you care about their situation and if they wish, they can always talk about it with you in the future.

5. Point out that domestic violence is widespread and should not be seen as personal shame.

How to show support

  • If the colleague has acknowledged that they experience violence, be supportive. It may be that you are the first to hear about it. Your reaction is crucial and may determine further steps and actions of the victim.
  • Be gentle and supportive, do not judge the actions or inaction of the person. Below are several examples of how to respond:

“Thank you for telling me. It must have been hard to do this.”

“I am so glad you told me. I truly care. I am worried about your and your children’s safety and health.”

“You are not alone.”

“There are people who can help you.”

“Violence is punishable by law because it is a crime.”

“It is not your fault.”

“Nobody deserves to be treated like this.”

“I understand how hard it must be to change the situation; it takes time to figure out what to do.”

“I will support you whatever you decide.”

  • Be a patient and open listener. 
  • Trust what you hear. Your colleague knows their situation best. Do not explain what should be done.
  • Advise seeking help.
  • Help prepare a safety plan.
  • Help with anything you colleague considers necessary; together, go through possible ways of help, accompany them to a health care institution, the police, a specialised help centre.  
  • Keep it confidential.
  • Respect you colleague’s decisions. This is a complicated process, and you do not know all the facts and details that may be important in this situation.

Actions by the employer

If in your organisation there is a person who suffers domestic violence, ensure their safety. You can:

  • Inform security guards in the building about the perpetrator and give them their photo, warn respective members of staff. The employee who is a victim of violence should be informed about this as well.  
  • Change the employee’s working hours (if working in shifts) or relocate them to another, safer workplace.
  • Consider introducing flexible working hours for the employee. This may be necessary due to their disturbed health and the need to find new accommodation, obligation to participate in court hearings, etc. 
  • Issue the employee with an additional mobile phone to be used if the perpetrator finds the main one.
  • Make sure that corridors, lifts and car parks are well-lit.
  • Allocate the employee who suffers violence a parking space close to the entrance to the building. 
  • Install alarm buttons and security mirrors.
  • Inform employees about the problem of domestic violence. Encourage them to accompany one another to their cars or a public transport stop, especially when it is dark outside.
  • Limit information about your employees available to strangers on the phone. Information that could be used to determine the location or return time of a violence-suffering employee should not be provided. 

Show interest in the well-being of the employee subjected to domestic violence. Ask questions of general nature. Maintain a formal relationship with the employee. Do not act as a counsellor or therapist. Any intervention or discussion about their situation should be very delicate and not breach their right to privacy.