Equally Safe at Work: new guidance on violence against women and work during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to set back efforts to address women’s labour market inequality and end violence against women (VAW) in Scotland. The crisis has necessitated a number of changes to workplaces, and as a result, victim-survivors may be facing different, and very often greater, barriers to access support. Some women may be at increased risk of violence or abuse and their experience of VAW may be exacerbated by the current self-isolation and social distancing measures.

Employers have an integral role to play during both the lockdown and recovery period. Line managers and colleagues may be the only consistent contact for victim-survivors during this time.

As part of Equally Safe at Work, an employer accreditation enabling Scottish local authorities to advance gender equality and prevent VAW, we have developed guidance on VAW, COVID-19 and work to support local government employers. The guidance outlines how COVID-19 impacts women’s experience of VAW, and how this relates to women’s employment. It also provides information on how to recognise signs of VAW when the victim-survivors is working from home or in the workplace and sets out best practice for responding to and supporting employees disclosing or reporting VAW.

For women experiencing domestic abuse and working from home, perpetrators may interfere and/or prevent women from doing their job. They may insist that they are responsible for childcare or prevent them from accessing the equipment they need to work from home, such as a laptop or phone. Coercive control is likely to intensify during lockdown, without regular interaction with other people, as perpetrators further restrict their partners’ freedoms and threaten their safety.

Stalking is also likely to increase as perpetrators will be able to easily locate victim-survivors which could be either at their home or at work, if they are not working from home. They may try to force contact with them through any means, including violating social distancing rules.

Despite many women not going into the workplace at the moment, they are still subject to sexual harassment at work. Sexual harassment doesn’t just happen face to face, but also through email, text and online platforms. Emerging evidence has revealed that perpetrators are manipulating new communication channels to sexually harass women. This itself creates increased challenges for victim-survivors to report, as they may feel it’s not a priority or they won’t receive support during this period.

We know that increasing numbers of victim-survivors of rape and sexual assault are living with trauma. Self-isolating and social distancing may exacerbate women’s experiences of trauma and lead to increased feelings of isolation, anxiety or depression. As well, the current crisis atmosphere may be triggering for victim-survivors. If a victim-survivor is working in a scaled back team, or has been redeployed to a new role, they may find it difficult to work with different colleagues, especially if they’re required to work alone with men.

‘Honour-based’ violence has similar effects as domestic abuse on women’s lives during COVID-19. In many cases, victim-survivors have multiple perpetrators which can include their partner and also family members. As a result of self-isolation, women may be locked in with their multiple perpetrators.

Employers may be a critical link for victim-survivors and can offer a variety of support, including signposting to specialist services such as Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis and Scottish Women’s Rights Centre who are continuing to offer support for victim-survivors during the pandemic.

You can read the full guidance here.

Comments: 1 (Add)

Kath Gallagher on June 17, 2020

I found this guidance extremely useful - practical and easy to read guidance that also has relevance for NHS and many other organisations.
The glossary is particularly helpful and recognises many managers and employees won't necessarily have the familiarity with concepts and terms that those of us working on GBV have. Many thanks!