How the Fight to Eliminate Violence Against Women Can, and Must, Be Taken Into Every Workplace

In October 2016, a young women named Alice Ruggles was brutally murdered after being stalked by her ex-partner. Alice’s murder represents a tragedy that should never have happened, and after much hard work, earlier this week her family have joined with other campaigners – which includes Women’s Aid Leicestershire — in launching “a ‘super complaint’ against police forces across the country to push for improvements in support for victims when they report offences.” (“Murdered stalking victim’s family say police must ‘learn lessons’ as major campaign is launched,” Leicester Mercury, November 26).

The super-complaint, which was put forward a coalition called the National Stalking Consortium, highlighted how “just five per cent of reports of stalking in the year to March 2022 resulted in a charge – a figure the group says puts victims at risk.” Furthermore, as reported in the Mercury, the consortium demonstrated how in the year ending March 2022, “a quarter of all stalking reports were dropped [by the police] due to issues relating to evidence – this was in cases where the suspect had been identified and where the victim supported action being taken.”

The super-complaint (which can be read in full here) makes many important points about the systemic nature of police failures and concludes that:

“Our evidence suggests that the negative police response to stalking is not representative of a few cases in particular police forces but is indicative of a systemic issue present across all forces in England and Wales. The Consortium is repeatedly approached by victims who have had negative experiences with the police after reporting stalking, some of which are putting them at risk and leading to re-traumatisation.”

So, in addition to supporting such demands for the implementation of urgent reforms of the police force, trade unionists must also ensure that such activism is taken into every workplace in the country.

To help with this, over the summer UNISON updated a succinct guide titled “Domestic violence and abuse: a trade union issue” (August 2022). This useful report noted how: “More than two women per week are killed by current or ex-partners and figures are sadly rising.” With the trade union guide adding that “All research indicates that in an economic recession domestic violence and abuse increases and that funding for women’s support services and refuges is likely to be cut.” The report likewise highlighted how:

“It is important to remember that victims/ survivors of domestic violence may be at increased risk of harm in their workplace if they leave an abusive partner, as it may be the only place where they can be located. As such, employers who are aware of domestic violence and fail to protect their employees from violence at work may be held liable under Health and Safety legislation.”

Therefore, as part of ongoing campaigning efforts, just last year UNISON succeeded in getting an amendment inserted into the Domestic Abuse Bill which means that statutory guidance now highlights UNISON’s “Domestic Abuse guide” and model policy as good practice for employers. (The model policy can be found in the guide and downloaded here.)

But although this is a positive step forward, much, much more can be done to improve even this workplace policy. To take just one example, “UNISON continues to campaign for paid leave for workers experiencing domestic abuse,” as the “ability to take time off work without facing disciplinary action or losing out on pay is crucial for survivors of domestic abuse who are trying to flee an abusive relationship.” Thus, citing an important positive example of a simple reform that can be implemented right now, the union guide describes how:

“Unions in Australia have successfully campaigned on domestic violence as a workplace issue and have negotiated 20 days of paid leave in cases of domestic violence across the whole of the public sector.”

While closer to home…

“The UNISON branch of Luton Borough Council successfully negotiated within their domestic abuse policy support for victims/survivors that included ‘special paid leave up to a maximum of 20 days for relevant appointments, including with support agencies, solicitors, to rearrange housing or childcare, and for court appointments.’”

To view an important speech made in December 2018 by Alice Ruggle’s mother, Sue Hills, at a protest organised by Women’s Aid Leicestershire that was held by the Clock Tower, follow this link.

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