Businesses should take a role in reducing domestic violence

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald on 28 November 2019 

My ex-husband never physically hit me, but he had left me ruined financially, mentally and emotionally when we separated. I felt ashamed and didn’t want to tell anyone. After our separation, my ex-husband made life extremely difficult for me, including not letting me see my daughter. I felt like I had no one to turn to, but one of my team leaders saw me walking at the bus station with my luggage and I confessed I was staying at the local backpackers after my ex-husband had kicked me out. AA Insurance became my refuge. My team leaders and a few select work mates made sure I was supported, and I now am on the other side of that deep, dark fog I found myself in.

This message was written by a person I work with and has kindly let me share here. As Head of People and Capability at a company with almost 750 staff, what happened to my colleague has become a personal reminder that employers have a responsibility beyond providing their people a decent wage and safe working conditions.

For a first world country, New Zealand’s statistics on domestic, or family, violence is pretty dismal. We have the highest rate of domestic abuse in the developed world. According to last year’s police statistics there were over 133,000 ‘family harm’ investigations. That sounds huge, until you consider that an estimated 76% to 87% of cases go unreported – then the figure becomes a Goliath. One in three (35%) New Zealand women have experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence in their lifetime, which jumps to 55% when you add in psychological/emotional abuse, reports the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse.

While the pain, suffering and premature mortality of victims is the costliest aspect of violence, the economic aspects affect us all in some way. The 2014 Glenn Inquiry reported that family violence is estimated to cost the country between $4.1 and $7 billion each year and rising. It includes the costs for treating victims, those associated with services like the police, court, legal services, child protection and victim support, transfer costs to the economy from benefit payments, ACC compensation and lost tax revenue, and changes in consumption patterns, like women now living alone to escape violence. What is interesting, for companies at least, is the productivity costs over a year such as lost wages and days off work were estimated to be $954.1 million. Frighteningly, the report goes on to suggest that if nothing is done, the cumulative costs over the next decade may approach $80 billion per year.

The only good news I can provide from these depressing statistics is that attitudes toward family violence are changing. One in three people have taken some action as a result of the It’s not OK Campaign, including talking to their family, obtaining more information, or asking for or offering help ( But it arguably hasn’t extended to businesses formally supporting employees. Fewer than a dozen businesses have the DVFREE Tick - criteria that create a domestic violence-free workplace - although I’m pleased to say many more are on their way.

Family violence is a delicate subject to broach, and isn’t always physical with obvious marks, but if an employer takes an explicit, pro-active and supportive stance, there is more chance of people being open about their circumstances and getting the support they need. Supporting a victim of domestic violence not only helps the person, it also helps the business.

However, if looking after staff and business costs are not reason enough for companies to take a stand against violence, then how about this one: Doing the right thing.

Before we received the email I quoted earlier, we had no formal policy in place against domestic violence at AA Insurance. Yes, we’ve always provided support when people needed it, but only when we were made aware of the situation. It soon became apparent that without formalising our commitment, our people wouldn’t know the extent we were willing to support them. So, we implemented our Domestic Violence Free Policy early in 2018, ahead of the new legislative requirement coming into force in April 2019. We have developed a support network role for our people, with volunteers trained to support their colleagues. And we are currently working towards achieving the DVFREE Tick through Shine.

True, we’re not trying to be counsellors or pretend we have all the answers, but we want to be there for our workmates. Being open about this issue that affects so many of us, either directly or through those we know and love, may help others who are too fearful to admit that it’s happening to them. Implementing the policy was a way for our staff to feel like they could reach out to ask for help, and slowly, the conversations started happening.

I hope people in other businesses are having these conversations too. We need to be brave enough to start talking to our staff to help direct them to the right support. It’s time for us to get involved and tackle the big, scary issues plaguing Aotearoa to help our work friends and colleagues. It’s time we were all committed to being part of the solution.

Nikki Howell

GM People & Capability, AA Insurance

About AA Insurance

AA Insurance is an independently operated, New Zealand-based joint venture between the New Zealand Automobile Association Limited (NZAA) and Vero Insurance New Zealand Limited (VINZL). Since 1994 we have demonstrated trusted expertise in home, contents and car insurance in New Zealand, and in 2018 introduced commercial small business insurance. We underwrite our own policies and sell direct to New Zealanders. Our 1000+ employees look after 500,000+ customers with more than 1,000,000 policies.

We proudly partner with Variety New Zealand – the Children’s Charity (as the lead partner of its Beds for Kids programme), Student Volunteer Army and support grassroot school sports via our Big Little Sponsorship sports grant in partnership with Eden Park. We are consistently recognised in industry awards and honours, including being voted the Reader’s Digest Most Trusted General Insurer for 13 years running, named Canstar’s 2023 Home and Contents Insurer of the Year and Outstanding Value Award winner, and currently ranked 7th amongst 100 of New Zealand’s most successful companies in the Kantar Corporate Reputation Index (since 2015).

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