Brighter skies: Groundbreaking support for victims of domestic abuse

After research reveals that a third of the working population has experienced domestic abuse, Vodafone implements paid leave to support any affected employees backed by the Bright Sky app from its Foundation.

When Sally Challen won her appeal against a murder conviction last week, it placed domestic abuse back in the headlines.

But although the accounts of sexual violence and coercive control that Mrs Challen suffered at the hands of her husband are chilling, they are shockingly commonplace. An estimated one in three women and up to one in six men experience abuse in their lifetime, a figure that spans all segments of society.

Crossing boundaries

The impact extends far beyond victims’ personal lives, as research by Vodafone Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm, found.

4,715 working men and women across multiple industries were surveyed – 37% of respondents had experienced abuse in some form.

61% of those affected had also experienced psychological control and emotional abuse:

Conversation based on experiences of domestic abuse victims provided by Hestia

The effect on their professional lives was also profound: two-thirds said the abuse affected their career while 13% had quit their job as a result.

Despite these negative consequences, only 5% of businesses internationally have a specific policy to support employees affected by domestic abuse.

Finding answers

Inspired by this research, and building on more than a decade’s work by Vodafone Foundation to develop mobile services to support victims of domestic violence and abuse, Vodafone has decided to take an active role in supporting victims of domestic abuse.

A new global policy provides employees experiencing domestic abuse and violence with access to support and specialist counselling, as well as up to 10 days additional paid ‘safe leave’ in all markets.

Time off is available for seeking professional help and counselling, attending police or court appointments, making arrangements to move house, and supporting their children, without the perpetrator necessarily being aware of the steps being taken.

In addition, specialist training will be provided for HR managers so they can fully support those experiencing abuse.

Alongside this ‘safe leave’ policy, a toolkit for employers has been developed by the Vodafone Foundation in collaboration with domestic violence and abuse expert Dr. Jane Pillinger.

It explains the many guises of domestic abuse, details its corrosive impact on the workplace, and outlines the appropriate actions to take. Case studies of employees given the relevant support from their workplace are included for guidance.

“The research that underlies this groundbreaking new policy for Vodafone’s employees reinforces yet again that so much of the violence against women has been invisible, yet powerfully damaging, with career-long effects,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women.

“When the workplace can become a safe and supportive environment for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, that is a major step forward.”

Practical support

Emma, a Vodafone employee in New Zealand, needed company support after suffering ongoing emotional abuse from her partner that culminated in a violent attack.

As a result, she found it very difficult to go into work, and nearly impossible to perform her responsibilities in customer services.

After speaking with her line manager, Emma was encouraged to take the recently instated paid leave. During that week away from work she was able to spend time helping her daughter, create a budget for her new life, and start recovering from the stress she’d endured.

She has since returned to work with renewed focus. Describing the support she received as Vodafone “wrapping its arms around me”. Emma is certain these policies allowed her to remain employed.

Without them, she believes the pressure of her circumstances would have become too much.

Technology support

Vodafone has also sought to provide wider technological solutions to those suffering from domestic abuse, through the work of the Vodafone Foundation.

Created by Vodafone Foundation in partnership with UK-based crisis support charity Hestia, their free app, Bright Sky, provides information about abuse, outlines steps to consider if leaving an abusive relationship, and shows the nearest support centres to users.

Users can secretly log incidents of domestic abuse in a secure digital journal, using text, audio, video, or photos. This evidence can help secure prosecution later.

Available since April 2018, the app has already been downloaded 10,000 times in the UK alone.

And, after the Vodafone Foundation’s research revealed that 33% of respondents thought an app would help reduce the impact of domestic violence on the work lives of employees, it will now be expanded to six more markets across Europe.

“With more than ten years’ working in this space, we know that connectivity saves lives,” explained Andrew Dunnett, Director of Vodafone Foundation.

“We want to offer an easy and direct route to connect people affected by multiple forms of abuse to essential services and information that they need.”

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