16 Days of Action – Supporting Women

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Heidi Riedel is Director of Woman’s Trust. She leads the provision of specialist, high quality, accessible services aimed at enabling women to overcome the debilitating mental health effects of domestic violence.

Today is day the 11th day of this year’s 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence. Since The campaign kicked off on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women last week I have read so many powerful pieces looking at domestic violence from all different angles. There has also been global news to remind us about how women around the world are suffering.

At Woman’s Trust we have a particular focus on supporting survivors of abuse to overcome the mental and emotional harm they’ve experienced and rebuild their life. This may sound like an obvious approach, but sadly the mental health needs of women who’ve been abused are often simply not met.

When a woman is a victim of domestic violence the focus is understandably on supporting her to get away from her abuser. But once she is out of physical harm’s way that is not the end of the story. Abuse, which is often perpetrated over years and in some case decades, can have a devastating effect on women’s mental health and erodes their self confidence down to zero.

At Woman’s Trust we offer women-only, client-led counselling and support services. And we know our services work: over two thirds of women said that after our help they felt less suicidal and were less likely to self-harm. Nine out of ten said they had a better knowledge of their rights, empowering to make the best life choices for themselves and the same number said they felt more in control of their future.

There are many reasons why employers should take note of the experiences of their staff who may be suffering domestic abuse. On a business level, and as with any health issue, it affects their bottom line. Research has shown that in 2009, domestic violence cost UK businesses £1.9 billion in lost economic output caused by physical injuries alone. If the impact on women’s mental health was factored into these calculations this figure would doubtless be significantly higher.

But more importantly work can play a very helpful role in the lives of victims of domestic abuse. For instance research has shown that more than one in ten victims of domestic violence chooses to confide in a manager or colleague. For many women speaking to someone about their experiences is a huge step and opportunity, which is why the Corporate Alliance’s (http://thecorporatealliance.co.uk/) work is so important assisting employers to take positive actions to develop support systems to make a difference to the health work and wellbeing of their employees.

This support can be invaluable for employers, and there are many simple, low cost steps which can be taken to support women affected by domestic violence and who are in the workplace. This should start with having a clear policy on domestic violence and abuse and where possible extend to training, for instance about what signs to look out for that someone may be a victim of abuse and know what type of proactive steps to take to safeguard staff who disclose.

To a woman who’s a victim of domestic abuse, this sort of support can literally be a lifesaver.