Recognizing and responding to domestic violence

Increase your awareness of the impacts of domestic violence, and how to recognize it

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour used by one person to gain power and control over another with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship.

The following warning signs should raise a red flag. Ask questions, don’t jump to conclusions.

The warning signs that someone may be experiencing abusive behaviour can include:

  • Obvious injuries such as bruises, black eyes, broken bones, hearing loss — these are often attributed to “falls,” “being clumsy,” or “accidents”
  • Clothing that is inappropriate for the season, such as long sleeves and turtlenecks — also wearing sunglasses and unusually heavy makeup
  • Uncharacteristic absenteeism or lateness for work or works extra hours to avoid being at home
  • Change in job performance: poor concentration and errors, slowness, inconsistent work quality
  • Uncharacteristic signs of anxiety and fear
  • Requests for special accommodations such as requests to leave early
  • Isolation; unusually quiet and keeping away from others
  • Emotional distress or flatness, tearfulness, depression, and suicidal thoughts
  • Minimization and denial of harassment or injuries
  • An unusual number of phone calls, strong reactions to those calls, and reluctance to converse or respond to phone messages. Others in the workplace may take insensitive or insulting messages intended for the colleague experiencing abuse
  • Sensitivity about home life or hints of trouble at home — comments may include references to bad moods, anger, temper, and alcohol or drug abuse
  • Disruptive personal visits to workplace by present or former partner or spouse
  • The appearance of gifts and flowers after what appears to be a dispute between the couple which may include physical violence .  

Someone who is behaving abusively at home may be “invisible” as an abuser at work. Perhaps they are an excellent worker, a manager, someone who does not reveal overtly violent behaviour in the work environment. 

These are some warning signs of abusive behaviour:

  • Is absent or late related to conflict at home;
  • Calls or contacts their partner repeatedly during work;
  • Bullies others at work;
  • Blames others for problems, especially their partner;
  • Denies problems;
  • Cannot take criticism and often acts defensively when challenged;
  • Acts like they are superior and of more value than others in their home; and
  • Controls their partner or ex-partner’s activities.

Understanding isolation as a dynamic of domestic violence

People experiencing domestic violence are often isolated in varying ways. People witnessing abusive behaviour are impacted and often become isolated when they sit alone with their concerns because they think it is a private matter. As abusive situations escalate, so too does the isolation for everyone involved. The more isolation; the greater the risk of serious harm.

Interrupt isolation to increase safety

Do NOT sit alone with your fears and concerns when you know or suspect a co-worker is being abused. Seek support and advice for yourself. Share your concerns with a supervisor or find a community agency that has expertise.

With your co-worker: Approach the person with genuine care and concern. You do NOT have to ‘solve’ the problem to be an important support.

Co-workers are often aware of the signs of abuse, but they may not know what to do about it. Warning signs don’t automatically mean abuse, instead they are a red flag. Pay attention to your concerns. Don’t jump to conclusions. If the person is someone you know, you may be the best person to interrupt their isolation and talk with them.

  1. SEE it. Pay attention when your ‘gut’ tells you something is NOT right. Recognize the warning signs of abuse.
  2. NAME it. “I am concerned about you.” Name the warning signs you have seen. Overcome your hesitation to help. Do NOT jump to conclusions.
  3. CHECK it. Ask questions. “Are you ok?” “Do you want to talk?”

    Here are a few examples:

    • “I overheard your partner yelling at you on the phone. Are you ok? Do you want to talk?”
    • “I’ve noticed that you’ve had trouble meeting your deadlines lately. Is there something bothering you? Do you want to talk about it?”
    • “I noticed the bruises you have. I’m worried about you. Are you ok?”
    • “You looked upset after that phone call today. I’m here if you want to talk.”

Remember that it is not your role to be a therapist or to ‘fix’ the situation. Reaching out, showing concern and offering support can make a big difference. You want to open a door for support. Your co-worker may be more comfortable if you can talk in a private setting such as a closed office or an area away from others where you cannot be heard or seen.

Refer and/or report

You can help your co-worker by sharing with them what support resources are available regarding domestic violence in your workplace and in your community.

You have a duty to report if there is a clear threat to the workplace or an incident of domestic violence occurs at work.

If you know or suspect that children are being abused, you must contact the Children’s Aid Society. Make sure your co-worker understands that this is your legal obligation.

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