What is domestic abuse?

  • 23 March 2022
  • Blog | Regulation & Compliance | Blog

My name is Lucy Whittaker and I’m the Founding Director and Lead Trainer of Alpha Vesta.  We are a Community Interest Company founded in 2019 with a very strong foundation and mission statement of ‘Embedding culture and building understanding around domestic abuse across workplaces and across communities.

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic Abuse incorporates a number of different behaviours in a variety of different contexts.  It’s also underpinned and fuelled by a variety of different factors.

It is characterised, at its core, by

‘Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening, behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been either intimate partners or family members – regardless of gender or sexuality’.

Many people would never associate with that term ‘domestic abuse’ or perhaps being a ‘victim’ or ‘perpetrator’ of abuse. They may consider they aren’t in the best intimate relationship, maybe a problem within their family but they won’t associate with that term domestic abuse which adds an extra layer to its invisibility across communities.

But remember victims and perpetrators are everywhere, in a variety of different guises.  As we say, they may be husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends abusing their intimate partner or they may be sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, nieces or nephews, exploiting or abusing another member of the family such as a parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt.

Domestic Abuse isn’t just about violence – it may be based around emotional or psychological abuse, coercive control, financial and economic abuse or even sexual abuse as a number of different ways in which someone may be being abused in the context of domestic abuse.

There is no stereotypical perpetrator, no stereotypical victim and no stereotypical domestic abuse incident.

Someone attempting to leave or separate themselves from a very coercively-controlling relationship without the right support and protection around them, will nearly always be subjected to some form of harassment and stalking by the perpetrator.  This impacts enormously on their ability to then live independently and function safely in their community.

What’s the Impact of Domestic Abuse?

The founding of Alpha Vesta in 2019 actually came a month after a big Home Office Report was released on the Social and Economic Costs of Domestic Abuse.

That Report placed those social and economic costs at an astonishing £66 billion per year with an estimated £14 billion of that as a direct cost to the economy.  The report highlighted that the average unit cost of supporting a victim of domestic abuse was placed at just under £35,000 but prevention work is calculated at only £5 per victim.  Bit of wide gap there isn’t there? – which we absolutely intend on narrowing through the work we do at Alpha Vesta.

How is the Workplace impacted by Domestic Abuse?

Research tells us that the Workplace is enormously impacted by domestic abuse – employers just don’t necessarily know it or recognise it – but that knowledge should give employers and workplaces a reason to engage – they are affected too.  They just don’t realise it!

Don't just take my word for it though – let’s look at some of the research on how employers and workplaces themselves have a vested interest in breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.

We know already that an estimated £14 billion of that overall £66 billion social and economic costs of domestic abuse is a direct cost to the economy - firstly because of the large response we need to plough in at crisis point but there are other important trends and themes to note in that cost to the economy.

Would you be surprised if I told you that, on average, in a study conducted by Vodafone and KPMG in 2019, just looking at female victims of domestic abuse, more than 500,000 working women in the UK have experienced it in the past 12 months?  

Roughly £316 million is lost to UK businesses just as a result of the work absences due to domestic abuse. Remember, these are just the ones we know about – because generally speaking around half of those in a very controlling and coercive relationship, won’t even know that they are being coercively controlled - it’s that clever! They may be feeling the impact enormously, they may be taking a lot of days off sick, may be resorting to complex coping mechanisms but no-one has ever talked to them about domestic abuse – so how would you or they even recognise it if it was happening to them or someone close to them.

The impact isn’t just felt through absence though but lateness, lower productivity, poor mental health and wellbeing. 

As a result – the potential loss of earning per woman in the UK as a result of domestic abuse having negative impacts on career progression is estimated to be £5,800 – so just under £6,000.  The research around male victims and the impact on their career progression has never been done.

Did you know that 21% of those affected by domestic abuse will have to take additional time off for court appearances and concerns about their children.

75% of people experiencing domestic abuse will also be targeted at their place of work by the Perpetrator – so this is going on around us – but we aren’t necessarily seeing it.

40% of victims are prevented from getting to work by their abuser – either through physical violence or restraint or threats that are made towards them.

We aren’t done yet though – and to dispel a few more myths and stereotypes around the kind of person we think may experience domestic abuse – between 50-68% of victims of all crime are in some form of employment – for victims of domestic abuse, 60-66% are in some form of employment – so it sits very much at that higher end of the type of crime someone may experience who is employed.

If you’re still not convinced that your business or organisation is affected by domestic abuse – let’s show you how hidden it is.

Because in a global study commissioned by Vodafone and conducted by Opinium.  1 in 2 of those affected didn’t tell anyone at work about the abuse they were experiencing because they felt too ashamed.  That study also told us that the second biggest barrier to telling people at work about their abuse was feeling it was inappropriate to mention. 

And this made me so incredibly sad – because what that study also told us was that 2/3 of those affected actually felt safer at work compared to at home and more than 2/3 said they could be themselves at work but not at home – what an opportunity we are missing - for something that has such a huge impact.

50% said that the abuse they experienced during their working life resulted in low self esteem and confidence – this feeling of never being ‘good enough’ – stayed with them – long after the abuse ended.

Really sadly, we’re not done yet - Because 1 in 2 of those interviewed said their work colleagues were also affected – and this is where we see another important repercussion, a ripple effect internally across our workforce.

How does the Workplace have an important Role in Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Abuse?

Not only is the workplace impacted directly by domestic abuse, it also could offer, with the right training and support, the perfect place for someone to reach out and seek help, guidance and support.

Colleagues are often best placed to spot some of the early signs as we often spend more time talking to them than anyone else.

We demonstrate that workplaces also offer this fantastic opportunity for staff to access training in a safe, supportive and structured environment – often listening to the training – is a lightbulb moment for someone – but that lightbulb moment happens in a structured, safe environment, where we can support or respond to their concerns. 

In addition to that, mandatory procedures and processes already in place within the Workplace such as health and safety legislation and codes of conduct policies can be used to assist us in our response. We’ve even got these tools and resources already to help us.

We’ve found that engaging workplaces in the right way and creating awareness and  embedding Culture and building Understanding, is incredibly powerful.  

Guiding employers and employees in creating non-judgemental, supportive, safe spaces for their staff and committing to ongoing training and policy development, we found could really be an incredibly important part of ‘breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.

At Alpha Vesta, we do exactly that and we do it with the support of our strong board and team that come from a variety of different sectors and backgrounds including HR, Facilities Management, Finance and Communications to make sure we can engage effectively with all workplaces, whatever the dynamic of that organisation and whatever the sector!

But where do we start?

We begin very simply with Step One – Raising Awareness about domestic abuse across your workforce and in your community

You can do this in a number of different ways.  You can display posters, publish an article about domestic abuse in a staff newsletter perhaps.  We have an employer pack which we can send out to you which has an article in it which you can distribute.  You could put information on staff intranet or workplace well-being platforms.  Display and distribute helpline details.  Arrange a presentation or talk for your workplace – we at Alpha Vesta do this all the time for different employers, businesses and organisations from 10 minute presentations, 1 hr awareness sessions to full 2 hr workshops, podcasts, interviews and recorded content.

You can let your community and workforce know that you care about domestic abuse, that you care about people that are affected by supporting a domestic abuse project in your area, a refuge, community giving.  You could also support a community awareness session in your area which we do as part of Alpha Vesta’s Sponsorship Programme.

We want to, in effect, let our workplace and our community know that Domestic Abuse is on our RADAR!

Step 2 gets us thinking about how we can support our own staff in terms of domestic abuse, offer them a supportive, safe, non-judgemental space to disclose or seek help and support.

Now awareness raising will already contribute to a supportive environment but let’s make sure we are communicating it in all the right places.  Sometimes we work with organisations that say they ran an awareness campaign in their staff newsletter, but then digging down further, we would find that only 7% of staff even read the newsletter.  We want to make sure we are communicating that awareness in the right places.

Through training we want to be in a position to recognise that this is a problem, whatever the workforce.  We want to provide safe spaces within our organisation in both the physical and virtual space; an opportunity for someone to reach out for help and support – to be BELIEVED – a place to talk to someone, a place to make phone call, meet a support worker or make a plan. 

We ask you to provide information within those safe spaces.  Be alert to additional vulnerabilities such as being economically abused, sprialling debt, risk of homelessness, disability.  Think about those from a minority ethnic group or part of the LGBT community who may struggle with isolation and getting heard already.

Consider the impact domestic abuse could have in any reduced performance and strive to find workable solutions to keep someone in employment and mediate that ripple effect across the whole workforce.  We look more in depth at this in our policy development workshop.

Step 3 is a Commitment to ongoing training of staff

  • Employers and staff need to know what domestic abuse is, understand how it manifests, impacts on the workplace and acknowledge its complexity through training.


  • All staff should have some level of basic training in domestic abuse in order to build a culture of understanding across the workplace.


  • HR staff and key Managers and drivers within an organisation can undertake additional and mentor training to respond to disclosures, concerns and any risks around future abuse occurring and the impact it might have in the
  • Refresher training should always be a feature of all training.


  • Employers should make sure that training is easily accessible to all staff and is respectful of inclusion and diversity.


At Alpha Vesta, we provide a range of CPD Accredited Training Courses, Mentor Training as well as specialist training for Line Managers and HR.

For those that way to go that step further, a robust domestic abuse policy will give increased clarity and confidence to everyone that works within an organisation so that everyone understands what to do if they suspect someone is being abused, stalked or harassed, thinks they may be a victim themselves or suspects they work with someone who is a perpetrator. Key components include a number of different things…


  • Why your company or organisation is committed to addressing domestic abuse.
  • What the impacts of Domestic Abuse are in the workplace.
  • Confidence and skills to recognise the signs of domestic abuse.
  • How to report concerns and what to expect from the employer.
  • Guidance on referrals and signposting for Victims and Perpetrators of Abuse.


Lucy Whittaker

Founding Director and Lead Trainer

Alpha Vesta CIC