Q: Recently an employee came to me stating she was concerned her ex-boyfriend may come to our workplace to try to talk with her. She indicated that she had ended the relationship because he called her names and would push her around. What is the best way to help individuals in these situations?
A: Thank you for a very important and timely question. October is Domestic ViolenceAwareness month, sponsored annually by the Domestic Violence Awareness Project (dvam.vawnet.org/index.php), a group that works to collect, develop and distribute resources and ideas relevant to ongoing domestic violence prevention awareness and education. Here is information about what domestic violence is and how
to assist those impacted by it.
Domestic violence is behavior perpetrated by one intimate partner that creates an environment of terror for the other partner and includes, but is not limited to, physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse as well as threats and destructiveness directed at the partner’s loved ones or valued possessions.
Domestic violence occurs among older and younger adults and adolescents, heterosexual and gay or lesbian couples, dating, married and formerly dating or formerly married couples of every socio-economic, racial or ethnic group. The perpetrator engages in these behaviors in an attempt to exercise power and control over the life of the other person. If the relationship seems threatened by breakup or divorce, the perpetrator is likely to escalate these behaviors in an effort to regain that control and prevent the relationship from ending. The following are examples of common forms of domestic violence:
Physical Abuse – Restraint, slapping, hitting, coercing drug use or withholding medication, aggravated assault and battery.
Sexual Abuse – Coerced sex acts, forcible intercourse, sexual activity pressed after a physically abusive incident, denial of contraception, coerced abortion and sexual mutilation.
Emotional Abuse – Threats, verbal disparagement, intimidation, degrading or contemptuous behavior, withholding communication, yelling and social isolation.
Economic Abuse – Direct or indirect manipulation or domination of family finances, abdication of financial responsibility, disposition of the personal property of family members without consent, sabotaging employment or credit.
Destruction of Property – Vandalism of home, car or other personal assets, vandalism of property of employer, landlord, creditors or others.
Threats or Acts of Abuse Against Loved Ones of Primary Target – Any of the above perpetrated against children, relatives, significant others or family pets.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, from the highest-paid, longest-working employee to the lowest paid part-timer. Likewise, anyone can be an abuser regardless of how well mannered, well-educated and well paid the employee may be. Abusers can be very charming to people who aren’t the target of their abuse. Statistically, women are much more likely to be victims of abuse rather than men.
What You May See from Victims
• Be anxious, nervous, unusually quiet or jumpy while at work.
• Receive many upsetting personal phone calls, faxes or visits.
• Have frequent injuries, explained or unexplained.
• Wear unseasonable clothing (to conceal injuries).
• Be late or absent from work a lot (to conceal injuries).
• Show a marked decrease in job performance.
• Seek extra work to avoid going home.
What You May See from Perpetrators
• Experience physical complaints such as stomach pain, headaches and tics.
• Admit to “marital concerns” but minimize the violence and abuse.
• Miss work frequently (to attend court hearings and/or to perpetrate abuse).
• Need a place to stay because of a court no-contact order.
• Be unable to concentrate.
• Be unable to locate the spouse or partner (and explain, for example, that he/she has run off with another).
• Have a sudden need for money (lawyer’s fees, extravagant apology gifts, etc.).
• Deny problems but appear unwell and irritable/tearful.
How to Help
• Do listen and believe what the victim tells you about their experience.
• Do give clear messages that violence is never OK – have clear workplace policies.
• Do take the victim seriously.
• Do help the victim plan how to be safe.
• Do respect confidentiality.
• Don’t tell a victim what to do, when to leave or not.
• Don’t tell a victim to go back and try harder.
• Don’t talk to the abuser about the abuse on behalf of the victim (they will often be hurt more).
• Don’t lose patience if the victim returns to the abuser.
• Do provide the victim and perpetrator the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a resource.
• Utilize your EAP as a resource to assist you in helping your employees.