Being an effective bystander during COVID-19

Domestic violence

Isolation has become the norm during COVID-19 but while it’s proven difficult for many, none have been more at risk than victims of domestic violence.

For people who face violence at the hands of a loved one, the office can be a safe place as well as provide resources and privacy to access expert help and services undetected.

Shaan Ross-Smith is the director of MATE (Motivating Action Through Empowerment) at Griffith University, a program that teaches bystanders how to prevent violence and problematic behaviour, and she stresses the important role workplaces have to play in this space.

Shaan Ross-Smith
Shaan Ross-Smith

“Survivors say knowing their employer genuinely cares — they’re not just ticking a box or worrying about good governance — but they genuinely care is hugely important,” Ross-Smith said.

“COVID-19 took everyone by surprise,” she added.

“The first thing I’d recommend is making sure that your organisation’s domestic violence policy is robust against these new working conditions.”

While having the policy in place is key, as co-worker or a manager, there’s more to do. An effective bystander recognises what is happening, provides support and vitally, refers the victim to a relevant organisation that can give the expertise required.

What you can do

During COVID-19, there are key ways colleagues can continue to recognise and support victims of domestic violence in the workplace:

  • Have regular one-on-one video catchups to connect meaningfully while physically isolated.
  • Ask colleagues about their support network to gauge how isolated they are, as well as enquiring about how they’re going with technology to get a sense of their ability to access to it.
  • Task team members with researching local domestic violence and mental health services and have them report back in a team meeting. Additionally, have the team present on the company’s domestic violence policy.
  • Do individual research about local providers and services and share findings publicly on social media — sending a message to networks.
  • Guarantee ongoing employment, if it is possible. Economic independence and the ability to go to work can be critical.
  • If someone is reluctant to continue working from home, allow them to return to the office as soon as possible.


During the month of May, Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, MATE have held free webinars that can be accessed at any time on the MATE website. MATE offers workplace training in recognising and referring victims and perpetrators of domestic violence — find out more about the services on offer at the MATE website.

If you or someone you know is at risk, you can contact DVConnect on 1800 811 811 or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

If you’re a Griffith student, find MATE and other relevant resources on our Safe Campuses website, as well as specialised counselling services. If you’re a Griffith staff member, refer to the university’s support mechanisms and its Domestic and Family Violence Support Policy.