Discussing domestic violence in the workplace is not easy, but it is important that employees and customers feel heard and believed. The reaction someone gets the first time they disclose domestic violence can be the difference between safety and staying in a dangerous situation. Which is intimidating when thinking about having those conversations.

These conversations are new to the workplace and it is important to recognize the role played when you are the one chosen for disclosure. How you react is as important as what you say.

Understanding leads to empathy

Empathy is so important and having an understanding of domestic violence and how it erodes a persons sense of self is important. Because without this it is hard to imagine the complexities of the issue. Chances are the person disclosing doesn’t really understand what is happening to them, having had the abuser minimize and justify the abuse for the duration of the relationship. So if the first person they confide in doesn’t seem to believe them it can be taken as a sign to close up again and ‘stop making a fuss’

It takes courage to speak up, especially in the workplace

The person being abused is vulnerable and it will have taken a great deal of courage to speak up especially in the workplace, and if not handled appropriately it could mean they shut down return to silence. They may not speak up again for a long time, this gives the abuser time to regain control. Once this control has been re-established, it could be months if not years before the victim has the confidence and head space to reach out. Their memory of of past disclosures not going well can erode the much needed confidence.

When an employee or customer is disclosing remember the following points:

  • Listen without judgement.
  • Ask what they need form you
  • Ask about their immediate safety
  • Do they have a safety plan?
  • Let them know you believe and support them.
  • Know you limitations and boundaries.

There is so much to think about when dealing with someone going through domestic violence. Acknowledge it is a difficult subject to discuss, and if you have no previous experience it is okay to say so. This way instead of thinking you are judging and disbelieving them, they would understand how difficult it is and this in itself can validate them.

Remember you are not a therapist, this is not your role. If your company has an EAP (Employee Assist Program) you can give your colleague the details. It is important to have as much information about your company’s policies and procedures along with the appropriate external resources and helplines. So, before you are in a position of having the conversation you are equipped with the information you need and can give you colleague your full attention.