Male violence against women is endemic
By Nikki Pound, Women’s Officer, Trades Union Congress on 30 November 2021 Maternity Services RCM Midwives MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Domestic Abuse Wellbeing Of Women Safety TUC Equality and Diversity NHS Staff
For too long violence against women and girls has been viewed as a private and individual matter.
But after the #metoo movement, the increase in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the murders of Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry, and Sarah Everard the national debate has shifted.
Increasingly we recognise that male violence against women is endemic, and it is everywhere. It is in our homes, on our streets, in our public and digital spaces, and in our workplaces.
A survey of women earlier this year found that 97 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment. Globally, one in three women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Here in the UK a woman is killed by a man every three days.
Women are 51 per cent of the workforce in the UK, and they make up 57 per cent of trade union membership. Ending male violence against women and girls is an equality issue, a health and safety issue, and that means it is a trade union issue.
Why is the workplace so important?
TUC research into workers’ experiences of domestic abuse found that of women who had or were experiencing domestic abuse, more than one in ten said the abuse continued into their workplace, often through harassing emails and calls, or perpetrators stalking them at work. Over half of those surveyed had taken time off work as a result of the abuse, and over 40 per cent said the abuse had affected their ability to get to work due to being injured, threatened or having their car keys or travel money taken by their abuser.
We know that half of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace - this rises to seven in 10 for disabled women. One in eight LBT women have experienced serious sexual assault or rape at work. Four out of five women don’t report the abuse they have experienced.
What can employers do?
Trade unions have long campaigned to get domestic abuse and sexual harassment classified as a workplace issue. Employers have legal responsibilities and a key role to play in ending male violence against women and supporting victims and survivors in the workplace.
Under health and safety law employers have a legal duty of care towards their employees to take all reasonable steps to ensure their health, safety, and wellbeing. And under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a duty to protect workers from sexual harassment. Public sector employers must also show due regard to the need to promote equality and eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimisation under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse
Employers must support victims and survivors and tackle the culture that enables violence against women.
A robust workplace domestic abuse policy developed with Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) specialists and trade unions and clearly communicated to all workers will demonstrate employers’ commitment to supporting victims and survivors. The policy must be backed up by signposting to support services, mandatory training for all staff to ensure their first response to survivors in the workplace is safe, empathetic and appropriate, with enhanced training for line managers (this should also be developed with VAWG specialists). Employers should have good flexible working policies and offer paid leave for victims and survivors to support them in coping and recovering from their experiences.
Employers also need to understand that the impact of abuse can be long-lasting, so support for survivors at work must be ongoing. As well as the long term physical and emotional impacts, abuse can continue even once someone is no longer living with or in regular contact with an abuser. Mothers in particular are often subjected to further trauma through the family courts system.
Tackling and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace
After years of campaigning by unions the government has announced a new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
The proposals aim to make sure employers take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening at work - including third party harassment.
It is vital that when a report of sexual harassment is made employers respond sensitively and effectively. It is also imperative that safe, confidential and independent reporting routes and support are available for victims and witnesses.
Employers must show zero tolerance of sexual harassment and sexist behaviour. This means adopting and communicating a clear workplace policy to everyone that is expected to comply with it, including employees, clients, contractors and patients.
Training for all staff on what sexual harassment is and the power dynamics, cultures and behaviours that enable it will also help challenge attitudes. And employers need to know what is going on in their workplaces. This can be done by running regular anonymous worker surveys and risk assessing the workplace to identify factors that can create or heighten risks of sexual harassment at work.
Ministers have taken an important first step – but they must keep up the momentum.
Women can only feel safe when the sexist and misogynistic culture in which sexual harassment thrives is stamped out once and for all.
See the RCM’s publication on workplace support for those experiencing domestic abuse at https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/2472/safe-places-workplace-support-for-those-experiencing-domestic-abuse.pdf.