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How business can help stop domestic violence

Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has become a tireless and poignant protagonist in the campaign to raise the profile and lower the human cost of domestic violence since the tragic death of her son at the hands of his father.

She spoke with BlueNotes about the role of the corporate world in combating this scourge that directly and indirectly impacts millions of Australians – a figure which, as she has said, dwarfs that of terrorism.

"If an employer can support their staff through very difficult times, it does mean that that's a very, very important lifeline for them."
Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year

Andrew Cornell: Terrorism is covered on the front pages and nightly news every day, even though the threat of someone dying from terrorism is remote. Yet you've argued domestic violence is with us every day and doesn't get that coverage.

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Rosie Batty: The word 'terrorism' immediately invokes fear. Certainly what we do notice is that there's incredible response to the threat of terrorism and things move incredibly quickly and decisively. Yet we've been pushing an uphill battle to have family violence on the agenda for a very, very long time.

So I think it is a good comparison. Terrorism (according to the statistics) will affect somebody else but we're made to feel it could happen to us, at any time. But when we consider that family violence is affecting so many people in our society and is a very real threat - we currently have two women a week being murdered in this country when they come to leave a violent partner - and we're certainly not seeing two deaths a week from terrorism.

AC: Clearly that's why large organisations, like ANZ, would be concerned. If it's two women a week in Australia that's a huge number of people who work for the bank who, either directly or indirectly, are affected. So is there a role for the business world, for corporations, in tackling this issue?

RB: When you consider that you potentially have up to up to 30,000 women in Australia who will have or will be affected by violence in their lifetime, what does that look like for an employer?

Well, it will impact their working productivity. People who are experiencing violence suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, so that affects their absenteeism, it affects the bottom line.

But also there is the very grave risk that through this trauma of being in a violent relationship, it can mean - because of court attendances or many other reasons - you may fall out of employment.

A large number of people who are homeless are families, women and children, fleeing violence.

So the ability to have continuity of employment is critical. And if the employer can support their staff through very difficult times, it does mean that's a very, very important lifeline for them.

AC: What then are the factors and policies organisations should consider or be aware of?

RB: By organisations having systems and processes in place, and recognising the part that is appropriate for them to play, that's really important.

Certainly that needs to be done by working closely with, perhaps, a specialised organisation that can help put these policies and procedures into place.

Obviously, confidentiality and discretion are important. It could be that, with workplace training, staff know how to perhaps say to a work colleague 'Are you okay? Can I help with something?' And perhaps support them to take the appropriate steps internally.

Certainly it is very important organisations recognise the degree of responsibility for being a compassionate and ethical workplace; that there is a responsibility for staff wellbeing.

So there are concrete policies like paid entitlement, leave entitlement. I think the 10-days' paid leave entitlement is a really great step. But that needs the implementation of policies and procedures and the culture surrounding that so an employee is comfortable to disclose. But also, the organisation knows the boundaries and the part they play, effectively, in linking and supporting their employee further.

We also need to consider that we have perpetrators of violence in the workplace too. So what do we do to improve or acknowledge that in the workplace? How do we educate people about what family violence looks like?

There is also the responsibility to your clients and customers. What is it you can learn about the situation a victim may fall into that your services could actually review and have a look at?

What could you do that is socially responsible?

AC: So large organisations have a particular role to play?

RB: I do think having a look at what's already being done and seeing if that's really enough to really deepen the awareness of this issue, to actually efficiently change thinking, attitudes, because that's what we need to be doing.

So it's what can we do that subtly shifts our thinking and makes us more aware, and by being more aware we're more mindful. That's where these large corporations who have a lot of reach across Australia have a role. Your workplace is a very large part of your life, it is a large part of where we are.

Another point I would make is a lot of people would perhaps assume domestic violence is more specifically our blue collar workers, which would be totally incorrect. So it is also acknowledging within our own office culture or workplace environment we are likely to have, victims and perpetrators.

Sandie de Wolf, Berry Street CEO

“In one of every three incidents police attend, children are present. We know being exposed to family violence, even if not directed at them, harms children's development. They can become anxious and withdrawn or repeat the violent behaviour on others.

But, there are also other pressures on children. Economic growth, affluence and technology don't necessarily translate into a good childhood. Yet we know a good childhood is the foundation for a productive adult life and the kind of society we all want.

The Berry Street Childhood Alliance is a movement of people who will stand up for the importance of childhood. Our children deserve no less.”

For more information go to www.berrystreet.org.au.

But it's important to not think it's too complicated because it doesn't have to be. It's about awareness. I remember coming into the office when I first moved to Australia and everyone could smoke. That's what we're looking at now with domestic violence.

At one time we were accepting of smoking now we realise it's wrong, it's unhealthy, we have definite policies. But today I doubt you probably have to do much more than have some signs saying, 'No Smoking', you don't really have to educate people as much anymore.

But I think the role of large banks is very important. Within your customer base, we know this is an issue. Financial abuse is one of the biggest obstacles to being able to leave a violent relationship so your core business is incredibly pertinent in this space.

ANZ CEO Mike Smith will host a Berry Street event on Friday 16 October attended by Rosie Batty and Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Graham Ashton focussing on domestic violence. Berry Street will launch the Berry Street Childhood Alliance at this event.

Berry Street is Victoria's largest independent child and family services organisation and has been making a positive impact in the lives of vulnerable Victorians since 1877. Berry Street is a key financial inclusion partner for ANZ delivering the Saver Plus and MoneyMinded initiatives within the community.

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Andrew Cornell is managing editor at BlueNotes.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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