Breaking the Silence on Domestic Abuse

In this eye-opening interview, I spoke to Josh Munro, COO of Break the Silence UK about different types of domestic abuse. Josh shone a light on the groups of people who are equally affected by this but sometimes overlooked by services. We discussed how organisations can support employees to safely access support and other useful signposts to resources. Trigger warning: this article contains references to domestic abuse and descriptions of emotional and psychological abuse.
Photo of Josh Munro

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello there, thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon. And today, I’m joined by Josh Munro, who is the Director of Break the Silence, which is an organization that helps men facing domestic abuse. And I got in touch with Josh because over the last few months, and particularly during the pandemic, I have spoken to a number of clients who have become aware of some of their staff facing domestic abuse or an increase in domestic abuse cases. And it’s certainly been hitting a lot of the headlines in the media and the press. And a lot of my clients have been asking me about what they could be doing to support those staff, particularly with much more of a focus on employee well-being as a result of the pandemic as well. So it was really timely that I came across Josh and his organization, and I think it’s quite unique really because a lot of talk about domestic abuse is aimed at abuse faced by women, but we know that also men face domestic abuse, but also people who are LGBT and people who are disabled as well. And this is really where Josh specializes in. So it’s really great that we can get him on the show today. So Josh, thank you ever so much for coming on. It’s lovely to see you.

Josh Munro: Yes, ditto Toby. Thank you very much.

Toby Mildon: Josh, before we kinda really get into it, can you just bring us up to speed on a bit more on who you are, what you do and how you got to this role in your life?

Josh Munro: See, wow. I am Josh Munro. I am a qualified independent domestic violence advisor. I’ve been in the sector for the last four years. I generally specialize in male victims, LGBT victims and complex needs. I have worked in three separate counties, both with victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse. I’ve wanted to work within this sector since quite a young age, to be fair. Since I was about 18, 19. Then after, going to university and having modules on domestic abuse and learning about careers within domestic abuse has really cemented my passion for the role and to help people as best as possible.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: To give examples of what I’ve done, I’ve sat on multi-agency risk assessment conferences. So that is with say police, Social Services, probation housing, all sorts of multi-agency meetings to come together and try and support the victim. I have also done child protection, child in need, and have also, well, supported victims in court, filed and also wrote restraining orders as well as, what else? ‘Cause there is so much. I also helped clients get in, well, find refuge space as well.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah. So you work for, or you’re one of the directors of Break the Silence UK?

Josh Munro: Yeah, one of three.

Toby Mildon: One of three. So what is it that you do, and what do you stand for?

Josh Munro: Well, for us, domestic abuse is a human issue. We support all victims, say, all genders, all nationalities. It’s an age, race, class any, I’d say gender. Anybody that is experiencing domestic abuse can receive help from us. All three of us have experience working in female services. Most of my caseload as an [0:04:00.6] __, say were female because there weren’t generally many men coming into the service, which you’ll find across the country, because when they pick up the phone, it’s, “Hello, women’s aid or hello… ” A service which is pretty much catered to and for women.

Toby Mildon: So what are some of the cases of domestic abuse that you cover? ‘Cause domestic abuse is quite, I imagine quite broad in the types of abuse that people can receive. But maybe it’s worth us just having a quick overview. ‘Cause maybe, for somebody who hasn’t really delved into domestic abuse very much, that might be quite eye-opening for them to understand the different types of abuse that occur.

Josh Munro: Perfect. So we’re looking at emotional abuse, psychological abuse, economic abuse, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: So all of these, in terms of victims, they can experience one, they can experience a couple, they can experience all of them, especially in cases where it is complex needs and they’ve been in the relationship a while, there’s been all forms of abuse within that relationship for a while. We usually find it worse within rural communities because it’s been experienced for 15, 20, 25 years or even longer, because again, a barrier behind closed doors issue or at least still has that mentality even in 2021. But aspects of, say, psychological and emotional abuse, two very different but can come across quite similar. With psychological abuse, they will do something in regard, well, say called coercive controlling behaviour. So little things that make you question your sanity. So whether they’re taking keys out of the bowl, or they are moving things around the home, or they’re making you feel unsafe or unstable. So like moving medication or, [0:06:09.6] __ blocking your access to said medication as well. So that emotional abuse… Oh, that one in particular has a horrendous effect on people, purely because that person is being chipped away little by little, every day.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: You are useless. You are not worthy of love. No one loves you. No one likes you. All these little, little things that start, and see it might be at the start of relationship, oh, you’re so clumsy. Oh, you’re so forgetful. Oh, you’re so whatever. So like insert, insult here.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: When that compounds over time it can really, really affect people. I’ve had… So when I’ve worked with male victims, the amount of emotional abuse, I’ve had cases where it’s been from family, from the people who are supposed to love you, no matter what, from birth. And then that’s carried on within each relationship that has been had afterwards. And the realization of that for that say, for that bloke in particular, who I’m thinking of was unbelievable because, bless him, he didn’t know what a healthy relationship was. He thought everything that he was experiencing was normal. Or, you know, I’m being told I, say, can’t perform in bed or I’m being told I’m not good at my job. I don’t provide enough money. I don’t buy expensive food. I don’t buy nice clothes. I don’t have a nice car. I don’t have a five bedroom house all to myself.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: See all these comparisons, I mean say even to celebrities can, say, oh, it looks like, examples, sort of like Daniel Craig, Dwayne “the rock” Johnson are pretty good examples. Oh, they look like they can satisfy their woman. They look like they can provide, they look like manly men.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: All of these images that are being transpired onto the victim could just say impact or at least impound that worthlessness tenfold.

Toby Mildon: It’s like you say, I mean, this is happening behind closed doors, and the people that listen to this podcast are usually work in HR. So we have heads of HR listening to this podcast. Diversity and inclusion leaders, people that run wellbeing programs, that kind of thing. Obviously, they’re kind of sitting in their HR team supporting people in their respective businesses. And if this is happening behind closed doors at home, I suppose, what are some of the telltale signs that they might be able to look out for to see that some of their people are suffering from domestic abuse?

Josh Munro: Generally you can get a sense of people who are sort of like performing at work in a personality sense. So they sort of turn themselves on they’re ready for work. And then when they have a quiet moment to themselves, or they’re behind closed doors, or they’re in their enclosed office, you can feel the sunken energy or at least slouched shoulders, eye-bags because they are, in some cases, sleep deprived ’cause their partner won’t let them sleep. That partner could also try and impact their ability to do their job, to even get to work, to also look for tardiness. Anything suspicious where it’s been quite good for a while and then, if you think about a timeline of a new relationship and now that’s suddenly sloped right down, or at least they’re calling in sick two, three times a week. Or there’s a new issue or they’ve still got that stomach bug or there are equipment difficulties at home, if they’re working from home, because their partner could smash their keyboard, hide their mouse, tamper with the computer, tamper with the sound, tamper with the microphone.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: There are quite a lot of things to consider. Any person who is, say HR specialties that are involved in the workforce, finding a space to ask that question, or at least, you know, oh, how are things at home? How’s that new relationship, how’s things? Because HR, when that person has sat in that office can be a very intimidating process because even if it’s the smallest thing, my job is on the line, my job is on the line. Must, you know, smile and nod and get on with the questions.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: So being able to provide a safe space for your colleagues to divulge that, or at least have counseling sessions or say there’s something that you can bring into work that can provide like a service or a safe space within there would help quite a lot.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. ‘Cause there’s a lot of things that HR could put in place. Say for example, a lot of businesses have employee diversity networks so those networks could provide resources on their internet. So link off to domestic abuse charities and organizations like yours. Signpost people to resources, and a lot of companies provide an employee assistance program as well.

Josh Munro: Oh, excellent.

Toby Mildon: Even small businesses can offer an employee assistance program nowadays on a… They can outsource it on a fairly low cost. There are multiple companies out there that provide that service. But I think it’s just providing those support structures in place, I guess. So your chief exec, Lee Marks wrote a book, Break the Silence, A Support Guide for Male Victims of Domestic Abuse, which is available on Amazon. And you edited the book and you contributed a couple of chapters yourself.

Josh Munro: Indeed.

Toby Mildon: Why did you write the book? And why are you focusing on male victims?

Josh Munro: Wow. Because me and Lee have been quite close in terms of career path for the last few years, ’cause we originally spoke when I first moved to Wooster, I applied for his job.

Josh Munro: I spoke to him via email. “Oh, This blokes lovely. He’s very helpful.”

Josh Munro: He was a male domestic abuse support worker within our county.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: And we met in my latest role with the same group working with perpetrators and he was doing our training and just sort of like heard the name [0:13:22.6] __ from my old organization name. He’s like, “Yes. Why?” So Oh, no. We conversed by email. He’s like, “Oh, my God, we actually did. How are you?”

Josh Munro: And we just built a friendship from there and discussed our passions in regards to domestic abuse, and he had the idea for this book. And both myself and Amy heard about it and pushed him to do it because yes, that is amazing. There are hardly any resources for men, especially for professionals in the sector trying to help them as well as family, trying to support them outside. Basically, just “do it, do it, do it, do it, do it and do it now”.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: Bless him he managed to write it, incredibly quickly bless him ’cause all from his head. And it is verily in the way he speaks and his passion really comes through on the book, which is fantastic. And then bless him, he asked me to have a read-over, see what I think. And so I was honored. So I had to read through over a weekend, so I’m like, “Right, okay. Awesome. I make these suggestions and also, what do you think in regards to LGBT, potentially the disabled as well as a few of the points within the book?” And he’s like, “Ah. Actually, yeah, that would be very interesting. Do you fancy contributing to that… “

Josh Munro: Didn’t even finish the sentence. “Yes, happily. This is amazing.”

Toby Mildon: It’s great that you spotted that blind spot in a way.

Josh Munro: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: So let’s first of all focus on the LGBT side of things and we’ll come to disability in a minute. What are some of the things that you say in your chapter about domestic abuse and LGBT that you think particularly stands out for employers?

Josh Munro: Well, not a lot of places understand LGBT dynamics. So in the case of the book, we’re talking gay men, bisexual men, trans men, and being able to understand those relationships because it is in effect two men. Even as it, because I’ve spoken to other professionals [0:15:47.2] __, “Oh, how do you deal with LGBT?” And blank stares, not really sure, sort of like, “Well, as a gay man. Let me just…

Josh Munro: Let me just put a little bit of info in there. Because it’s two men, they seem to think, we’ll have a bit of a bust-up, we’ll leave it to fisticuffs, have a physical outburst, one will get removed from the property and that’s it.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: Whereas LGBT relationships are just as complex, loving, validating, especially when healthy. So when violence comes into the mix and how different aspects, as you have said about physical, emotional, all these different aspects of domestic abuse within LGBT, the emotional abuse can, or at least the [0:16:50.6] __ of controlling behavior aspects can be, “Do this thing or I’ll out you to your friends that don’t know. I’ll out you at work.”

Toby Mildon: Right.

Josh Munro: Especially if the workplace is particularly conservative or a very large company that is, as I say conservative, always very concerned with this image as you know most are.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: Or at least, forward-facing as well as.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: ‘Cause again, that can be hospitality, that can be retail, that can be anything.

Toby Mildon: I think that’s such an important point actually because I talked to loads of employers and they say to me, they want more inclusivity, more diversity, because they want people to be, bring their whole selves to work, is the phrase that’s commonly thrown around. And I think, actually, I think that’s a good point, because if somebody can’t be open about their sexuality at work, then they’re having to keep that part of their identity hidden, and that can be used as a threat in the situations that you’ve outlined, I suppose.

Josh Munro: Yeah, very much so ’cause having worn that mask myself, I’ve just sort of like, “Alright. Okay. Play-it-straight kind of thing, tone it down [0:18:19.7] _ all of this.” It’s exhausting. And when you work so hard to keep that facade going, you will do anything to keep up and because you don’t always know how your colleagues will feel. You always get one colleague [0:18:36.1] “Oh, well.” I said, I’ve had to manager say to me, “Oh, so you’re gay?” I was like, “Yeah,” and [0:18:43.3] ___, “Oh, fair enough. You seem a nice lad, and I’m not saying that I agree with it or anything,” and it’s like, first of all, called it. [laughter] I expected that. That’s not a shock, but it’s very much finding a way to have that conversation within work if you are comfortable.

Toby Mildon: Okay. So it’s [0:19:05.3] __ to kind of like throw away remarks, like that manager said to you that, that have quite a profound impact. I was talking with a client the other day and he was saying that he feels like he can’t show up to work on a Monday morning and talk about what he did with his boyfriend over the weekend, because the culture of the organization is very heteronormative.

Toby Mildon: In his words, they’re talking about what they did with their kids over the weekend and stuff like that. And he feels like his lifestyle doesn’t fit with the, I suppose the expectations a lot of people have in the company. And that’s really draining on his energy, because he’s having to think twice about what he says or doesn’t say to his colleagues.

Josh Munro: Yeah, because even if he does divulge that can warrant a lot of questions that aren’t necessarily tactfully put together. ‘Cause they can get very invasive, very quickly. I’ve had the, “Oh, so which ones the man, which ones the woman?” [0:20:13.9] __ we’re two men, that’s kind of, [laughter] You know, which chop sticks the fork, you know. [chuckle] Yeah, there’s a very interesting things that I’ve been asked by colleagues, from sort of, “Oh, do you want children? Or are you gonna adopt?” Oh, I’ve even had friends offer to be surrogates… [laughter]

Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Munro: I’m childless by choice, thank you. That’s not me. Yeah, it gets very interesting, what sort of people respond, if anything, I find it fascinating because it’s very different depending whether it’s work friends, personal friends, but yeah.

Toby Mildon: Absolutely. You also wrote the chapter on disability?

Josh Munro: Yes.

Toby Mildon: What are some of the key things that you talk about in that chapter that is unique to people living with a disability or a long-term health conditions?

Josh Munro: Say well, especially with long-term health conditions that require a lot of medication, whether that be to function day-to-day, manage pain, or say manage symptoms that you have. Or side effects of a previous medication that you need for said condition, the main point in that one is when that medication is withheld. Because, I’ve seen organizations, or at least staff within them, where they just think, “Oh well, they’ve just got this medication that they need that’s just out of reach.” Yeah, but can you not see the control that’s being exerted by the perpetrator, because basically, they’ve taken advantage of that person. They know that person is in pain. There’s only so long they can go without that medication. They’ll come home to them in cold sweats or passed out. And having that medication, inch or even just like a centimeter or even just a fingertip out of reach, when you are desperate for it, is a new kind of hell.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Munro: It genuinely sickens me that people, [0:22:24.7] __ I’ve read risk assessments where that has been the case, and, especially when it’s been very horrendous conditions that this person has, whether it’s been, say, a condition that they were born with or they have obtained via an accident or all these different ways. The way in which that is exerted over them is horrendous, and the fact that that can play on that person’s mind as well. It’s very similar to emotional abuse in the sense that they are being chipped away at every day, being reminded, “You’re not a whole person. Everyone else can manage with this, why can’t you?” It’s, you know, “Oh, you only have to stand up and get in,” just these little harmful knives, they stub quite deep for that person.

Josh Munro: And it’s just another way for that person to be completely reliant on that perpetrator. ‘Cause it’ll get to a point where they can’t say, “Oh, well, I thought you wanted to go out and have an iced tea with family,” or something like, “Oh, but you’re still gripping about your medication,” or, “You’re still grappling about this very small issue,” that isn’t a small issue. And making them choose to isolate because they need to have the medication that they desperately need to function over their family and friends. Their family and friends will begin to think, or at least will be nudged by the perpetrator, “Oh, no, they didn’t wanna see you, they’re not interested. Oh, I think they might be addicted to the medication, I think we should try and change it.” And again, more side effects with changes in medication.

Toby Mildon: That becomes really controlling, doesn’t it?

Josh Munro: Very much so.

Toby Mildon: I think something that really struck me from what you’ve said so far, is those continuous small bits of digging and behavior that compound over time and eventually really undermine somebody’s confidence and self-worth and things like that. And the moment, you haven’t talked about really big outbursts, which, of course do happen, but it those kind of continuous, small behaviors that really undermine.

Josh Munro: Yes, completely [0:24:51.0] __ because the big outburst never happen first. Never happen, ’cause you don’t show your hand in poker, so the bigger outburst, I’ll save that for later. ‘Cause it can initially be love bombing, so we’re talking constant gifts, going out to dinner, all these very nice thoughtful things, flowers at work, declarations of love over social media. Really doting over you in front of family and friends. “Oh, isn’t your new partner lovely. Oh, they seem so nice. Oh, you two look so happy together.” And then behind closed doors, it will start with the, “Oh, you’re wearing that?”

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: “Oh, you seem to have put on a bit of weight or let yourself go.”

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Josh Munro: “Oh, you’re losing your keys again, I swear you’re getting really scatty these days. What’s wrong with you?” And then you can get into like, “Mmm, might want to start looking at medication”, or, “I think you might have this diagnosis. Oh… ” It does build over time. The fact that some of these incidences can build up so quickly, as well, ’cause it can happen in a period of weeks or months, in some cases, depending on the level of progression and how quickly they are able to get in the home say get into that person’s life, into their work relationships, isolate them from the same or opposite gender at work. Make it uncomfortable for work colleagues to talk to them outside of work, or at least make it possible, can really [0:26:32.8] __.

Toby Mildon: Based on your experience, typically, at what point do you see people getting the help that they need to help get them out of these situations? Do you notice a common thread or a common pattern?

Josh Munro: Usually with physical domestic abuse where it has been primarily physical. They tend to come calm quicker because again, the term domestic violence has been very violence-based, and very emphasized in the physical side, whereas we like to use the term domestic abuse encompassing every aspect. With the emotional abuse, it takes longer. From recent stats we’ve seen men can stay within these relationships up to six years or more before they start reaching for help. So being able to implement things at work, or at least looking at the company’s domestic abuse policy, if they have one, can really help because six years is a long time. And especially if you’ve known this co-worker since you’ve been there and they’ve been there. Four, five years you’ve been there three and you’ve noticed a slight decline or they’re drinking more coffee to stay awake, or their work is suffering, or their interpersonal skills are a bit scatty from what they used to be when they first arrived. Just these little things might heavily impact that person over time.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, so if the person listening to our conversation today wants to get in touch with you, what are some of the services that you could offer that could help them?

Josh Munro: Well, we offer say individual personalized support. So if you were to come to us, we’d do a risk assessment, we’d look at your local area because we have a few people on our books from all over the country at the moment. We can, well it’s obviously with their permission, start speaking to agencies. Social work, in regards to seeing their children. The police, in regards to how they handled the situation, whether they’ve done the domestic abuse specific risk assessment and actually here’s ours and in comparison, where is it? We’re scoring this bloke as a high, why have you got him as a standard? There’s been threats to life, there’s been physical violence, evidence of emotional violence, emotions let’s say, and evidence of deterioration. What are you doing? And we’ve had very positive responses from different forces as well, because we won’t go away we’ll fight [0:29:21.6] __.

Josh Munro: So with us, it’s very much a case of, you can speak to us at any time, our contact information is on our website at www.breakthesilenceuk.co.uk. On our contact page, you’ve got email addresses that combines that all three of us have access to, as well as our individual email addresses, for Lee, Amy, and myself. We usually say we respond as diligently as we can, because obviously we’re working as well as setting up the business ’cause we’re human too. And because once we finish work during the day, sometimes we’re not going to bed till gone midnight only because we know we’re doing things or we’re having meetings with say prospective clients.

Josh Munro: We do one-to-one support, as well as can make references to other support agencies in your local area if you need a letter from us for court, if you need us to refer you over to National Center for Domestic Violence for a restraining order, prohibited steps order, all of these different things to keep you safe or even applying for safety measures to be put into your home, so lock change, alarms, all these different things we can get that done for you.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. And also, I would encourage the person listening to us today to go out and get the book, so it’s, Break the Silence, A Support Guide for Male Victims of Domestic Abuse, which is available on Amazon, both as a paperback and kindle, and it’s also available through some other publisher channels as well. Josh, thank you ever so much for joining me today, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I found it really eye-opening and I hope the person listening to us today has found it really useful, then maybe they can take some hints and tips and resources back to their own organization to support their staff. So, Josh, thank you ever so much for joining me. And thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Josh, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode which will be coming up very soon. Until then, thanks very much.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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