Employers' vital role in helping the victims of domestic violence

The battle to stem domestic violence can begin in the workplace, says Emma Pearmaine. She met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.
8 Jan 2016.....Business Tuesday profile of Emma Pearmaine of Simpson Millar, who is one of the leading figures in a corporate campaign against domestic violence. Picture Scott Merrylees8 Jan 2016.....Business Tuesday profile of Emma Pearmaine of Simpson Millar, who is one of the leading figures in a corporate campaign against domestic violence. Picture Scott Merrylees
8 Jan 2016.....Business Tuesday profile of Emma Pearmaine of Simpson Millar, who is one of the leading figures in a corporate campaign against domestic violence. Picture Scott Merrylees

Home is supposed to be the place of greatest safety.

Sadly, for many women – and men – it’s a place of suffering, with nowhere to hide. Their anguish is heightened by feelings of isolation, because family and friends have been marginalised by their abuser.

Emma Pearmaine has helped to establish a network which encourages employers to support domestic violence victims, and help them take the first steps towards a new life.

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Domestic violence is a crime which affects one in four women and one in six men, and costs the UK economy around £1.9bn a year. Many victims won’t tell their employers because they fear they will be shunned or overlooked for promotion.

Domestic abuse accounts for 10 per cent of all recorded crime. Seventy five per cent of victims are targeted at work, often via phone calls or threatening text messages.

Family lawyer Ms Pearmaine is chair of the board of trustees for the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence (CAADV), which is made up of big companies who are working together to support victims. They are also encouraging their abusers to seek help.

With help from CAADV, employers can take simple steps to keep victims safe. For example, security staff can have a plan of action to deal with abusers who try to contact victims at work. Security teams can walk staff to cars, taxis or train stations.

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Staff can be trained to spot signs of domestic abuse, and a person in the firm can be appointed to provide counselling.

Ms Pearmaine became involved in CAADV’s work after a paper she had written attracted the attention of Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, who was the first female attorney general. The Baroness, who established CAADV in 2005, was impressed by Ms Pearmaine’s analysis of the potential impact that changes in legal aid policy could have on domestic violence victims.

Ms Pearmaine, who helped to establish a CAADV network in Yorkshire, wants more companies to join the campaign. Apart from helping the victim, it can also improve the company’s financial performance.

“Typically, somebody who is experiencing domestic violence is more likely to be late for work,’’ she said, “And they are more likely to be taking time off work, and they are more likely to fail to meet their work targets because of all the stress they are enduring. They may even find that they have to leave their job. It’s one of the issues that remains behind closed doors.

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“It shouldn’t be. It’s in part because survivors feel unsure about speaking out. They don’t know whether they will be supported,’’ she added. “In part, this is because those who are on the receiving end of the disclosure don’t know what to do.

“One of the jobs of the corporate alliance is to provide tool kits and information to enable human resources teams to deal with disclosures of domestic violence, and to provide signposts to the agencies who can provide practical help.

“The corporate alliance will provide the member company with a toolkit which will include posters, leaflets, training and a dedicated telephone line about who to call to get help and support for somebody who does make a disclosure. ”

The abuse isn’t just physical. Abusive individuals can control their partner by insulting and belittling them. Some abusers keep an excessively tight control on the family purse strings.

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Ms Pearmaine said: “We see lots of victims of domestic abuse who are controlled financially, or they are restricted from seeing friends or family.

“Their confidence is eroded. They become, in some respects, alienated from the world.”

In Yorkshire, CAADV currently has six member companies, including Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, and it hopes to attract more. In 2015, across the UK, CAADV received around 124 calls from its member companies about staff who may be domestic violence victims.

Ms Pearmaine added: “We do find locally that the police are very supportive where a disclosure is made.

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“It’s important that, in the first instance, the victim is believed.”

In 2014, Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Constabulary, published a report which found “significant” weaknesses in the service provided to domestic abuse victims by the police across the UK.

A report from HMIC, which was compiled last summer, found that things had improved, and the police see tackling domestic abuse as a priority. In the period from March 2014 – when the initial report was published – and August 2015 there was a 31 per cent rise in domestic-abuse related crime, according to HMIC.

HMIC believes this is partly because forces are getting better at identifying and recording domestic crime. It may also indicate that victims are becoming more confident about coming forward.

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Ms Pearmaine said: “There is an increasing awareness, but I still think that domestic violence figures, which are published by the police, aren’t reflective of the true problem because it is still a hidden issue. Lots of people don’t report incidents. “

In the long term, the education system can play a major role in cutting the number of domestic violence cases.

Ms Pearmaine said: “ The corporate alliance supports lots of programmes with young people as well, and works with schools and other charities and educational establishments.

“It’s educating young people that domestic violence is not acceptable, that hopefully will, in the long term, break the cycle. I would like domestic violence to be a subject that is no longer hidden, and people accept that survivors are not responsible for what has happened to them, and people are ready and able to provide support.”

Title: Director of Family Services, Simpson Millar

Date of birth: April 18, 1974

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Education: Brumby Comprehensive, Scunthorpe. Coventry University LLB Honours

First job: A Bakery stall at Scunthorpe market aged 14.

Last book read: The Common Years by Jilly Cooper

Favourite song: Mr Blue Sky by ELO

Favourite holiday destination: Lake District

Car driven: Mini Clubman

What is the thing you are most proud of? I am most proud of my two sons. Professionally, I am proud to be chair of trustees for The Corporate Alliance and to have achieved directorship at Simpson Millar.