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Breaking isolation: Domestic abuse and workplace support

Domestic abuse remains a massive problem in Britain with the vast majority of it being carried out by men against women and children. The sheer scale of the problem can be gauged from the fact that, although only half of incidents are reported, the police still receive one call every minute that is related to domestic violence. Many of these calls involve life threatening situations, reflected in the fact that an average of two women each week are killed by their partner or ex-partner.

The abuse experienced by women takes various forms – physical, sexual or psychological – while one in four women will experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives. The effects of this abuse can be devastating and include homelessness, poor physical and mental health and isolation from friends and family. In trying to cope with these effects many women also succumb to drug and alcohol problems.

In the past domestic violence remained hidden. It was very often portrayed as something that women just had to put up with, something that was somehow a part of normal married life. Marriage itself was a relationship in which women were cast as subservient to men. It was not until the rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s that the reality of domestic abuse began to be forced out into the open. The more radical elements of the movement set up women’s refuges which provided a place for women to escape from abuse and acted as a focal point for the campaign against domestic violence.

Since then the support structures in place for abused women have steadily spread and improved. However, the high incidence of domestic abuse demonstrates that, although women escaping it now have more support available, its root cause, women’s oppression, remains firmly entrenched within our society.

In recent years the battle against domestic abuse has been taken into the workplace. The aim is to organise support within the workplace for women suffering from abuse as a means of breaking down the isolation of being trapped in abusive relationships within the home.

The campaign also aims to support women with work related problems that stem from abuse. The abuse suffered at home affects all areas of women’s lives, including the workplace. Abused women often have poor work records in terms of issues like job performance, time keeping and absenteeism. It is also not uncommon for the perpetrator, or the friends and family of the perpetrator, to work in the same workplace. Having to deal with problems at home, as well as in work, often proves too much and abused women end up being dismissed or having to leave, a situation which only adds to their feelings of isolation.

We fully support the aim of trying to raise awareness of domestic abuse within the workplace. Unlike the existing trade unions, we believe that it is only through uniting community and workplace struggles within a single movement that real progress can be made.

We do, however, reject the idea of attempting to win over trade union officials and company management in favour of a grass roots campaign aimed at workers within the workplace. The aim should be to raise awareness of domestic abuse among workers and to confront the culture of sexism that exists in many of our workplaces. It is only by demonstrating that there is opposition to domestic abuse and to everyday ingrained sexism, that women suffering from abuse will begin to become confident enough to come forward and break the isolation that traps them within the horror of abusive relationships.

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Solidarity Federation