This week the BBC hosted an extraordinary conference on how business and public employers can act to help employees if they are suffering the living hell of domestic abuse.
The conference attracted big names. Lord Hall, director general of BBC; Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner; Amber Rudd, the home secretary (by video); Ben Page, chief executive of ipsos MORI;Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, Chief of Defence People;Victoria Atkins,Home Office minister for crime and directors from accountancy giant, Grant Thornton, and Vodafone, the mobile phone provider.
It also was addressed by a remarkably brave woman,Serena, who told her story of both child sexual abuse and an adult abusive relationship, which led her unsympathetic employer to sack her and the actor and series producer of TV drama Holby City, whose story line included an abusive gay relationship which ended up with one partner being beaten up.
The event was organised by an organisation you have probably never heard of – the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse – run by Elizabeth Filkin, a no nonsense figure who as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards once took on Peter Mandelson and Keith Vaz over allegations of bad behaviour..
People might think what has business got to do with people’s personal lives – but what was noticeable was the firms that are backing the initiative had got involved after a traumatic event involving their staff.
Cressida Dick told the extraordinary story of how a very competent senior police officer in the Met rang her own switchboard to report that she was a victim of domestic abuse. The police commissioner read out her testimony and described how she , though finding it an extremely difficult thing to do, is now coping with it
Another big accountancy firm became involved after an employee jumped off London Bridge and committed suicide because they couldn’t cope with domestic abuse.
And a person attending from a hotel group told me they got involved after a young man attending a function was sexually abused when sleeping off the effects of too much alcohol on their premises. He went to the police, they decided they should join an organisation that dealt with abuse.
The BBC’s involvement comes some 18 months after the shock of the Jimmy Savile scandal – and ironically the conference was held in the same room where Tony Hall pledged to take action in the wake of Dame Janet Smith’s devastating findings on the issue.
Ad the Ministry of Defence actually tackles predators as well both those serving in the forces and those in the families of serving officers.
But they are the good ones. Ben Page told the conference that HR departments ” talked the good talk ” but often didn’t take any action or did not know how to to take action. Only one in twenty medium and large companies have a policy to deal with domestic abuse.
He described the present situation as akin to the position on mental health – which had been ignored by firms but was now accepted as an issue. He was an optimist saying ” In 10 years time all the misogynists will be dead ” – a point challenged by Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley, who takes up domestic abuse issues, and is regularly trolled by people on the net.
Probably his most interesting admission was as chief executive of an organisation employing 1400 he did not know or had never come across a case of domestic abuse among his staff. He admitted that could not be the case.
His report makes a number of recommendations which could be included in the government’s new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill- including removing the minimum qualifying period for domestic abuse victims to get flexible working and introducing ten days paid leave a year for domestic abuse victims. The latter, he admitted, would lead to protests from the Tory right. I can just imagine MPs like the nappy change refusnik Jacob Rees Mogg having apoplexy.
The government is obviously keen on employers sharing responsibility. But below the surface there are huge issues of resources, the fate of women refuges, austerity, pressure on local authorities and the police and social services to handle this huge problem.
I shall return to some of these issues in future blogs. But one point needs to be made. This conference was covered by none of the national media – not even the BBC who hosted it. Only The Telegraph and ITN did show some interest. And that is despite energetic efforts made by conference organisers.
There is an interesting parallel. In the media industry – only the BBC and ITN – have signed up to the group which now numbers over 150 companies who are trying to help victims of domestic abuse.
So the entire national and regional press and the major social media sites believe there is no problem with domestic abuse among their thousands of employees. A likely story. No wonder they didn’t cover it.