“Do I stay or leave?” In an ideal world, survivors of domestic violence shouldn’t need to ask this question. Sadly, the decision to walk out of an abusive relationship does not mean that the cycle of torture is over for many of them. In fact, they often find themselves transitioning from one torturous experience to another, punishing themselves instead of their abusers.
Most events in the aftermath of leaving – lawyer’s meetings, court appearances, house hunting, therapy sessions, shifting children to new schools – require time and flexibility. Consider this alongside the physical and emotional recovery process, and this may partly explain why some victims choose to remain in an abusive relationship, simply because they cannot get enough time off work without losing a portion of their income.
Labour’s new plans to get employers to offer paid leave to victims of domestic violence might just give thousands of people the financial support they need to break free. It follows New Zealand, which in July passed legislation allowing up to 10 days paid leave. Arguments that this was yet another burden on small and medium enterprises were clearly not popular.
According to the Femicide Census Report from domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, more than two thirds of women murdered by a man in 2016 were killed by a partner or former partner. One of the most dangerous times for a victim, male or female, is the moment of departure as abusers can coerce them into staying. Getting time off work to move out while abusers are away will be of great benefit to victims, as well as any dependents involved.
Abusers also often prevent victims from leaving by sabotaging their professional life and restricting their finances. A victim’s job therefore becomes their lifeline and the income from paid leave will help them settle into a new, safe environment without worrying about work. Many struggle to discuss domestic violence with employers, especially in unstable jobs, and this policy sends the message that a company must care for its abused employees.
If Labour’s plan sees the light of day, perhaps the most powerful message to emerge will be the fact that the policy could intimidate abusers. A survivor with 10 days of paid leave will be able to maximise the resource by making court appearances and obtaining protection orders, all with workplace support. It leaves survivors with more power over abusers, and that alone is an important step forward in the battle against domestic violence.
If you’ve been affected by anything in this article, below are details of organisations who can help:
Student Advice Centre: https://su.sheffield.ac.uk/student-advice-centre
0114 222 8660
Women’s Aid: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247