Eyes and ears: UK tradespeople trained to spot domestic abuse

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 29 April 2021 12:41 GMT

A tradesperson with Morgan Sindall Property Services makes a house-call in Westminster area. Picture taken July 2020. Photo supplied by Morgan Sindall Property Services

Image Caption and Rights Information

Telltale signs could include punch or kick marks on walls and loose bathroom door locks, says Morgan Sindall Property Services

By Emma Batha

LONDON, April 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of British tradespeople are being trained to spot signs of domestic abuse - from punch holes in doors to broken bathroom locks - during callouts for home repairs under a new initiative.

Other telltale signs could include kick marks on walls, wobbly handles or broken hinges to rooms where victims seek shelter, along with a tense atmosphere or fearful children.

"This is a first for the industry," said a spokeswoman for Morgan Sindall Property Services, which has contracts across the country covering about 200,000 properties owned by local authorities and other social housing providers.

Domestic abuse has surged in the pandemic, with lockdowns leaving many women trapped at home with violent partners.

"Tradespeople are often the only people who have access to properties, especially during lockdowns," Morgan Sindall tradesman Paul Smith told the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Smith, who leads a London repair team, said there could be many things to set "alarm bells ringing", be it the atmosphere in a home or repeat callouts to fix the same bathroom lock.

"It could be signs of tension, coercive behaviour or physical signs. The children's behaviour as well - they could be fearful or shaking, or the way the parents speak to them may not feel right," he added.

"It's good to know you may be doing something to help."

Domestic abuse expert Kelly Henderson, in charge of training Morgan Sindall staff, said she was not turning repair teams into social workers or snoopers.

"What we're doing is being the eyes and ears and passing really significant information on," said Henderson.

"It's about flagging what we see and highlighting potential domestic abuse. It's certainly not about snooping."

Britain is bolstering protections for domestic abuse victims with new legislation set to be approved on Thursday.

About 2.4 million people, mostly women, experience domestic abuse every year, according to the government.

Westminster City Council, which uses Morgan Sindall to repair 11,000 properties, said it would bring in a professional domestic abuse organisation if alerted to a potential issue.

Spokeswoman Heather Clarke said Westminster was committed to action and hoped other contractors would take up the training.

It is the latest initiative by business to use its access to what are often closed spaces to root out signs of abuse.

The leisure industry has trained staff to spot signs of sex trafficking in hotel rooms, while Uber has advised drivers on how to identify possible traffickers and victims in its cars.

Related stories:

'Ask for ANI': new high-street code for UK abuse victims

UK revenge porn nearly doubled in two years, survey finds

UK to criminalise 'horrific' strangling attacks under domestic abuse bill

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.