When domestic violence happens at work

Credits: Aura Lewis

Kim Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence said “I can solve million-dollar problems, but I can’t get my husband to stop hitting me”. Also, a study found that 74% of employed abused women are harassed by their partner at work.

Domestic violence goes wherever you go, and the workplace is no different. Domestic violence is a public problem and not one confined to a home. Don’t look at a woman’s perfect life, look at her unperfect small signs that may be a cry for help. To those who follow the series Big Little Lies, you will look at Nicole Kidman’s character and you will see the petrifying example of a perfect life that is not so perfect because of a rising case of domestic violence.

More than 1500 women in US are murdered every year by their partner. And if you think this doesn’t happen to working or career-women, think again, it affects stay-at-homemoms, women doctors, women CEO’s, women entrepreneurs, any woman, to be truthful.
No matter your job title, domestic violence doesn’t vary according to it.

Even if domestic violence usually starts at home, it doesn’t stop there. A woman that suffers from domestic violence at home, has a high absence rate, a higher rate of work injuries and lack of productivity, because, let’s be fair, who can be focus at work when they’re a victim of domestic violence at home?

But it’s not just that, abusers stalk victims at the workplace as well, harassing or assaulting and even killing the victim at her place of work. Plus, coworkers can also be victims, because of the abused person’s frequent absence, they have to cope with the extra work and, in extreme cases, they can turn into collateral victims, since there are cases where the abuser went to the victim’s workplace and shot her and her co-workers.

As a manager of a company that might come across an employee who is the victim of domestic violence you should:

Never deny the problem

Never think this is not your problem, it’s your problem too, and besides the workplace harassment by the partner, the signs of abuse are frequently visible. Because someone is a successful employee doesn’t mean that person is not a victim of domestic violence, sometimes it’s the only place where she feels valued and safe and sense of normality in her life. But every so often, controlling calls from the partner or anxious behaviormay occurr.
In your case, as someone responsible for a company or other employees, who doesn’t want to set the problem aside, you can pass on information about the matter, and even create, for instance, a survey for your employees, where victims can check off behaviors they are suffering from, perhaps leading to a realization of the signs of abuse they might be thinking were normal behaviors!
Abuse usually starts way before the physical violence, usually in the form of jealousy and manipulation. Victims might be led to think that this is normal, and stay in the relationship until the abuse escalates and she feels she can’t leave the cycle of abuse.

Inform, inform, inform

Make information available to your employees and post, not just information about domestic violence, but also phone numbers and contacts that victims can reach out to if they need to. Expose this information everywhere: bathrooms, entry of the building, send internal newsletters…
Seminars are also a great way of letting people know more about the issue, by educating them. Call an organization related to domestic violence and ask them to give a lecture at your company about this issue. Because this issue matters to everyone!

Act and help

And if you suspect an employee is being abused, you should talk to her in private, and ask her if everything is okay at home. If the person doesn’t want to talk, be aware of the signs and try other approaches, such as asking again, just don’t ever look away. Only bad people look away.
If the person reports abuse, you should let her know you will support with her and, most of all, that you will respect her privacy. Avoid saying things such as suggesting to immediately leave the abuser – it takes 5 to 7 times before the victim leaves the abuser for good. Be patient, this is a process. This type of violence is part of a cycle that includes reconciliation and escalates again into violence. If you can provide an advocate to start working with the victim and psychological support that’s great, if not, you should forward the victim to an association that supports victims of domestic violence.

Create procedures after the victim leaves the abuser

For instance, if there is a restraining order after the victim leaves the abuser, you should have a picture of the person, and other data such as the type of car he drives, or the license plate, so that you can be prepared for what may come. An attempt to kill the victim usually occurs right after a victim leaves the abuser, so be prepared.
After the person leaves the abuser, prepare yourself to support a person that might be a single mom, searching for a new house, with court appointments, a new school for the kids, of the need for therapy, overall, a person with the need to rebuild a new life.

Anxiety and depression can be there for years if the person doesn’t look for psychological help, the person usually needs to forgive herself, and this is a process that can take years. Help the person find a specialist in DV or to talk to a local association that can refer the best ones in this case. Sometimes the person needs leave of absence, give her the freedom to be able to do it.

Remember that the workplace can be a bad or a good place for helping the victim recover. If co-workers provide support and superiors provide safety and understanding, she might find the courage to leave, and also help the healing process.

Develop a safety plan

Any workplace can create an individualized personal safety plan to address the situation of the worker and other employees. Updates to the safety plan need to be done as circumstances change. Share this with everyone in the company. Precautions are never too much! This plan may include:

• Ask if the victim has already established protection or restraining orders. Help to make sure all the conditions of that order are being followed.
• Talk to the employee about guarantying privacy and working to identify solutions. Follow up and check on her well-being. Connect the victim with an association that can provide psychological support and legal support as well.
• Ask for a recent photo or description of the abuser. Alert security and reception so they are aware of who to look for.
• Change her phone number, have another person screen her calls, or block the abuser’s calls/emails.
• Provide the victim with a new cell phone so that she can call the emergency number, if she needs to.
• When necessary, change the person’s working space, so that she cannot be seen through windows or from the outside.
• Do not include her contact information in the company directories or website.
• Arrange an escort to take the person to her car or to public transportation.
• Offer a flexible work schedule if that’s possible.
• Call the police if the abuser exhibits criminal activity such as stalking.
• If the victim and the abuser work at the same place, do not schedule both employees to work at the same time or location wherever possible.
• If the abuser works at the same place, use disciplinary procedures to hold the abuser accountable for unacceptable behavior in the workplace.

Make this issue everyone’s issue

Sometimes co-workers spot this problem first, so have them fill out an anonymous survey where you question their current well-being, as well as that of their co-workers. Don’t try to handle a suspicious or a case of domestic abuse on your own, call an association that is specialized in this matter. Never pressure someone to leave the abuser, especially when there are kids involved.

Do you spot any kind of the following behaviors in your co-workers:

• Is never available to socialize after work
• Receives disturbing phone calls
• Is always picked up or driven to work by her partner
• Suffers frequent injuries or is frequently bruised, or wears concealing clothes
• Shows very inconsistent work
• Appears anxious or depressed

What is domestic violence?

Overall, domestic violence is not just physical assault. It’s a pattern of behavior used by one person to gain power and control over another with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship. It can include any form of violent behavior. But there are additional forms of violence in a domestic relationship such as:

• Using property, pets, or children to threaten and intimidate;
• Using economic abuse, such as withholding or stealing money, stopping a partner from reporting to work, or from getting or keeping a job;
• Any kind of sexual, spiritual, or emotional abuse.

This is domestic violence.

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