Investing within the workplace to break the cycle of family violence

Former Justice Minister Amy Adams said 100,000 incidents of abuse were reported to the Police in 2014.

The Domestic Violence (Victims’ Protection) Bill currently before Parliament presents an opportunity to bring about some of the most significant social change in New Zealand since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1893. And it’s good for business.

When she was Minister of Justice, Amy Adams reported 100,000 incidents of abuse were reported to the Police in 2014.  As she said then, that’s one incident every 5 minutes. Nearly half of all homicides and reported violent crime in New Zealand are family-violence related. Better record-keeping and public awareness since 2014 has resulted in even more incidents coming to light - providing evidence of that the magnitude of domestic violence if anything has been underestimated.

New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world and the fifth highest of child abuse.  Intimate partner abuse is estimated to affect as many as 1 in 3 women. To date, the “treatment” of family violence has focused on addressing the symptoms, rather than the cause, the prevention or the cure. That has a cost. For the year ended 2014, child abuse and violence between partners was estimated to cost New Zealand up to $7 billion a year and rising.

We can reverse this trend, and we can start in the workplace.

 A consistent message from people in relationships where there is intimate partner abuse is that the workplace provides a pathway to gain confidence and escape from the smothering rage and hurt such abuse engenders.  In other words, workplaces are part of the answer for breaking the cycle of violence that currently permeates such a large proportion of our society. 

It makes intuitive sense that having a secure job and financial stability removes a lot of the obstacles for victims to get out of violent situations. What is less well understood is the serious costs employers are currently paying for the impact of violence on workers and their colleagues.

We’ve calculated the cost to New Zealand businesses. The hazards created by domestic violence - distraction at work, recruitment (when a victim has no choice but leaving), retention and re-training – cost employers, be they small, medium or large, an average of nearly $3,500 a year per employee (who is a victim of domestic violence).

But it’s a different story when employers are well-informed about domestic violence and properly manage it as a workplace risk. Then, survivors go on to achieve and maintain security in their home lives. This enables them to rebuild their confidence and in a relatively short time they reward the employer’s support with increased commitment and improved productivity.  In other words, for a business adopting workplace protection for victims of family abuse, as well as saving the costs of ongoing violence, the business will experience significant overall productivity gains in a very short time as both the survivors of domestic abuse and their colleagues become more focused because of fewer distractions and reduced stress.

That could be achieved for every business with the passage of Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence (Victims’ Protection) Bill. And by setting a basic standard across every workplace, it ensures no business can undercut its competitors by scrimping on support for victims of violence – and that no victim has to rely on the luck of the draw to get the help they need from their employer to get out of the violence in their lives.

We have an opportunity to reverse our terrible, growing rates of domestic violence in New Zealand, and doing it through the framework provided by the Domestic Violence (Victims’ Protection) Bill will save lives, while saving costs and increasing business productivity. It would be worth doing even if it only achieved the former. When it achieves both, it is hard to see why anyone would object.

Suzanne Snively is a former Reserve Bank board member, professional director and chairwoman of Transparency International NZ. 

Rider: This content is not commissioned or paid for by NBR

 


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8 Comments & Questions

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When I read something like this it makes me think that for many New Zealand's not a nice place to be living in. The question has to be asked why is it like that? I don't have the answer. Maybe just getting by these days is just too tough for many out there, causing pressures at home. Godzone not anymore it would seem.

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Workplace support provides a great opportunity to help victims of domestic violence and is one key in what needs to be a coordinated strategy for addressing domestic violence in NZ. In my experience, workplaces also provide the ideal opportunity to help the perpetrators of domestic violence to improve skills for communication and self-regulation of emotions. There is extra incentive and motivation to change when these behaviours are addressed in the workplace.

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As a victim of domestic abuse (reported and court orders in place) I have found it very difficult over the past 6-12 months in particular.

My workplace (whilst espousing being supportive) have actually managed to make my situation worse by making me feel inadequate at work and unable to talk about my situation with any friends or work colleagues (my natural and only immediately available source of support).

Employers may present a face of "understanding and support", but (in my experience at leas), the pressure for employees to "harden up" and just get on with things can be immense.

My own situation has seen me recently feeling as though I am being "pushed out" of the workplace.

The financial pressure of trying to run a household covering what were joint expenses on a sole income, together with managing the impact on other family members etc is immense.

It is imperative that employers recognise these very real stressors (& potential impact on their employees) and rather than "add" to them by expecting an employee to continue to operate to previous high standards, acknowledge the effort being made by victims often to simply turn up to work and continue to meet targets etc.

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I hope you've got some good friends and family around you, as you need all the help you can get after what you've been through. Things will get better, it just takes a bit of time, unfortunately.

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If you want to stop domestic violence, sort out the men and women who do it. Creating victims and supporting them is bad policy. Give counselling to women to stop them finding abusive men, and to face their own part in creating the problem in the first place. These men are victims too and need help put the $ where it matters at the root. The rest is waste.

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I wholeheartedly agree with Suzanne Snively. We at Shine have developed DVFREE (www.dvfree.org.nz) to support employers to put in place policies, procedures and training for key staff so that staff who experience domestic violence are supported and kept safe while at work and so anyone perpetrating domestic violence using work time or resources is held accountable. This bill would help level the playing field so that all employers are required to meet a basic level of policy and practice and it would make a real difference for the many many victims of domestic violence in our workforce.

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The Family has failed. Most of these instances are from dysfunctional houses (I'm deliberately don't call them homes) where the man (usually) doesn't know how to be a decent partner, or a decent father, or probably how to hold down a decent job. He was probably scraped off the floor as a kid, never loved, always shouted at and has no idea how to behave normally. As a teenage he probably watched porn with his mates and talked trash to his female counterparts. If he wasn't beaten up, he beat up, and may have never have actually sat at a dining table to eat his meals.
The family has failed miserably over the past 50 years and we can see the ugly results disrupting our schools, misbehaving on our streets, abusing themselves and others in every way they can think of, and generally causing mischief and mayhem for everyone concerned, until they are incarcerated for their own and everyone else's good.
Folks it's the family that has fallen to its lowest ebb in over 100 years that's not working, and we're now pushing it on the schools and now the businesses to help try and help fix it up. Give me strength. The schools and the businesses have got enough on their plates. The problem lies in the poor attitudes of our male population in particular but not totally. Men are often more trouble than they're worth. They haven't got a chance when the houses that are supposed to shelter them cannot even do that. Why? Because the third/fourth generation of child parents don't have a clue how to bring themselves up properly let alone their children are allowed to continue this awful and destructive way of living. Living? Perhaps.
Come on people, we know this.

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I hear these stats and occasionally I hear whispers that certain ethnic groups are well over represented in the stats. So my question is, is this a cross cultural issue or a specific cultural issue?

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