Recent reports from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster state that Police have been seeing an increase in the number of incidents of Family Harm in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. Past experiences during the Christchurch earthquake and COVID-19 pandemic have shown us that the prevalence and severity of family violence does indeed increase during times of crisis and large-scale natural disasters. It is important to understand that while these factors may result in an escalation in family violence, they do not cause the violence in the first place. They can, however, increase social isolation, present further barriers to help-seeking, and even create opportunities for people using violence to exercise new forms of coercive and controlling behaviour.
We can all help by checking in on people we know living in affected areas. The following sections have some helpful information and tips for employers and people leaders.
As a manager/employer, what might I need to know about family violence right now?
A common impact of natural disasters is that people living in regions directly affected become isolated and cut off from their usual social networks, including friends, family and the workplace. They may not have access to power, water, food or transport. They may have had to move out of their home. All of these factors can impact on a person’s ability to access family violence specialist services. We know that reaching out for help can be difficult at the best of times; doing so when one’s basic facilities or amenities have been compromised is even harder. It is therefore important to proactively reach out to your employees and offer empathetic and practical support where it is safe to do so.
How do I help?
- If you are concerned that someone might be experiencing family violence at home, be very careful about how you communicate with them. It is best to be governed by the over-riding principle to do no harm. Assume that the person using violence is present, listening in on phone conversations and reading any communication material, including emails and texts. Ask your team member what the best way to contact them is and follow their lead. What may be safe one day, could change the next.
- If your staff in cyclone-affected areas are now working from home, offer an alternative worksite if at all possible. For many people experiencing violence, the workplace can provide temporary respite from the abuse.
- Offer an agreed upon code word with your team member. If they message you that word, you can call Police and ask them to check on that person or take another course of discussed action.
- Keep checking in. Make sure you do this in a way that has been discussed and agreed upon with your team member. Be mindful that their circumstances and needs might change very quickly. Continue to reach out to them even after the immediate crisis stage has abated: research has shown that the escalation in violence that occurs during a disaster or crisis can be ongoing well into the disaster recovery period (Sety, James & Brackenridge 2014).
What can I say to someone I’m concerned about?
- If you are concerned someone is at risk of immediate danger, call 111.
- If you are concerned that someone on your team is experiencing family violence at home, it is ok to reach out and begin a conversation. Start by checking whether now is a good time to talk. You might find it helpful to open the conversation with a general question asking how they are doing or how things are going at home. It is important to emphasize that you are asking because you are care. If the answers are vague, then ask questions to clarify what they mean and be prepared to be more specific. Sometimes asking direct questions can feel challenging, but it’s an important way to show that you are taking the situation seriously and that you are prepared to listen.
- If your team member does disclose that they are experiencing family violence, respond with empathy and without judgement. Listen to them. Respect their needs and choices. Reassure them that they are not responsible for the violence and that help and support is available.
- You can read more at https://www.2shine.org.nz/help-others/help-someone-you-know/
What services or support is available?
- Find out what direct support your organisation can offer. Begin by checking your Domestic/Family Violence policy and procedures if you have one and proactively offer identified resources available: this might include specific workplace support, the use of in-house protective services, discretionary funding available on a case-by-case basis, or trained family violence contact people within your organisation (DVFREE First Responders).
- Family violence specialist services remain operational during crises and disasters. Find out about local services in your area, including family violence specific services, your local refuge, kaupapa Māori organisations and so forth. Help connect impacted staff with these local services directly or offer contact numbers for national family violence helplines listed below:
- Shine: 0508 744 633. Free to call 24/7. Webchat available at www.2shine.org.nz
- Women’s Refuge: 0800 733 843. Free to call 24/7. Live webchat via the shielded site icon
- Are You OK: 0800 456 450. Free to call 9am – 11pm 7 days. Webchat available at www.areyouok.org.nz
- Hey Bro: 0800 439 276. Free to call 24/7. For men concerned they are going to harm a loved one or family member.
- Ask out about any other needs they may have. Sometimes people perpetrating violence use a crisis as a way to withhold basic necessities. Offer to deliver food, medication and sanitary items if it is safe to do so. You could also help connect them with Civil Defence or MSD if relevant.
- Be careful about how you publicize any of the family violence supports and services available to your team so that you don’t raise suspicion and increase risk for employees experiencing violence. Ensure that specialist family violence services are mentioned alongside other supports and that these are communicated to all staff.
If you’re ever unsure about how to proceed, it’s always best to consult a family violence specialist helpline for advice.
For more information about workplace support for employees affected by family violence, visit www.DVFREE.org.nz.