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What to Do If Your Coworker Is a Victim of Domestic Violence
Witnessing signs of domestic violence in a colleague? We can help you equip yourself with knowledge and resources to make a difference.
According to ncadv.org, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical intimate partner violence. This emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing domestic violence, even in our workplaces.
If you suspect that a coworker is a victim of domestic violence, you may feel clueless about what to say or do. But even without having the perfect words, your willingness to take action may prevent future (and perhaps escalated) violence.
As you approach the situation with care and sensitivity, here's a step-by-step approach of how to respond to a coworker who you suspect may be a victim of domestic violence.
Signs of Domestic Violence in a Coworker
First of all, it's important to recognize the signs of a domestic violence victim. An abused person might:
- Seem anxious around their partner
- Become isolated or not as social as they used to be
- Abandon hobbies or activities they once enjoyed
- Display anxiety about pleasing their partner
- Have lower self-esteem than they used to
- Mention excessive demands from their partner
- Have bruises or other injuries with no explanation, or an explanation that does not seem correct
If your coworker has displayed any of these signs, you may be able to help.
Steps to support a coworker who may be facing domestic violence
1. Educate yourself
Domestic violence can be physical, mental, sexual, economic, digital, emotional harm, or verbal abuse that occurs with intimate partners who may or may not be living together.
For cases of physical abuse, this includes a range of behaviors from slapping, shoving, and pushing, to much more physically violent actions.
If you are concerned about someone displaying any of these behaviors, you need to address your concerns with them one-on-one.
2. Choose the right time and place
Find a private and safe space to talk with your coworker. Be sure they are not busy or distracted, and that they feel confident that nobody will be listening in to your conversation.
3. Express concern about domestic violence situations
Approach your coworker with empathy and concern. Let them know that you have noticed changes in their behavior or appearance, and you are there to support them.
4. Listen actively
If they choose to share, listen without judgment and give them your full attention. Let your coworker talk at their own pace and avoid pushing them to disclose more than they are comfortable sharing.
5. Believe and validate
It is crucial to believe your coworker’s story and validate their feelings. Domestic violence can be emotionally complex, and your support matters.
6. Respect their choices
No matter your opinion, you must respect your coworker’s decisions and autonomy. Avoid giving advice or pressuring them to take specific actions. When you offer options, let them decide what is best for them.
7. Provide information
If they express interest, provide your coworker with information about resources such as domestic violence hotlines, shelters, legal assistance, counseling, and support groups.
For example, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has an online chat and text option, or they can call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help. The hotline is available to victims, concerned friends and family, or anyone seeking more information about domestic violence.
If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), this would also be a valuable resource for your coworkers to contact, in the event they are not comfortable contacting the hotline.
If you are an employee looking for workplace safety ideas to implement at your company to support domestic violence victims, reach out to your Stratus HR rep. We can help you protect your employees.
Offer to do the leg work to gather more information about resources for your coworkers, as they may not feel safe doing web searches that could be monitored.
8. Maintain confidentiality
Keep the information your coworker shares with you confidential unless there is an imminent risk of harm. If you believe their safety is at risk, do not hesitate to involve appropriate authorities.
9. Offer workplace support
If your coworker is comfortable, discuss how the workplace can provide support and address domestic violence. This might involve adjusting their work schedule, providing time off, or helping to ensure they remain safe at work.
10. Check-in regularly
Continue to check in on your coworker, respecting their boundaries. Let them know you are there for them whenever they need to talk.
11. Involve professionals
If the situation escalates or you believe their safety is at risk, consider involving the human resources department, your supervisor, or even law enforcement. Always prioritize their safety and well-being.
12. Remember your role
Chances are that you are not a professional counselor or social worker, so your role is to provide support and connect your coworker to appropriate resources. If you are unsure about how to proceed, you might consider seeking advice from a domestic violence organization or a helpline.
Additional Resources for Domestic Abuse Victims
For more information about domestic violence resources, please see the following:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Get free and immediate (24/7) access to resources and support, including call, chat, and text options.
- Benefits.gov: See programs that help victims of domestic violence find housing and government benefits.
- NCADV: Find referral sources for victims and survivors of domestic violence covering a variety of needs for any age, gender, or minority.
- Dol.gov: Read procedures on how to respond if the perpetrator shows up at work with the intent to do harm.