I was attacked one Sunday night just over 10 years ago. We were separated only a few weeks at the time. He returned to the house while me and our children were sleeping. I was startled awake to find him standing over me. The physical attack began within moments after I woke up and lasted for what felt like an eternity. Aside from seeing stars and tasting blood, I only remember thinking I needed to be quiet so I wouldn’t wake my sleeping toddler and infant.
On Monday morning, I had to figure out what to say when I called work. It would be several days before I could go back to the office because of the scrapes and bruises to my face.
Should I lie say I was sick? What if they asked for a doctor’s note? Although I knew I needed medical attention, at the time, I didn’t want to leave my house and risk being seen by anyone or having to explain to a doctor what happened without revealing the truth. I wasn’t willing to risk or deal with the fallout of revealing the truth to anyone beyond my most inner circle.
But I had to call work and tell them something. I was the HR person! No call – no show to work wasn’t an option … So I picked up the phone, called my boss and told as much of the truth as I could get out without breaking down completely from pain, fear and shame.
It was harder than telling my parents.
My company allowed me to work from home while I recovered. My boss checked on me daily to make sure I was OK. He cleared my calendar of all face-to-face meetings for another week or so after I came back so I wouldn’t have to see people and they wouldn’t see me. He reminded me of our Employee Assistance Program, which I would eventually put to use.
And he never mentioned it again.
To this day, I still wonder what he was thinking and feeling during that time. I wonder if he noticed the bruises that couldn’t be covered and the make-up over the ones that could. Maybe someday I’ll find the courage to ask him.
I’m thankful that he allowed me to keep my dignity and my job during a very dark, difficult moment in my life. I’ve tried to pay that kindness forward ever since when circumstance allowed me to.
Most places I’ve worked have no policy or process in place for dealing with victims of domestic violence. The law in some states are starting to catch up by passing Sick & Safe Leave laws that provide job leave and security for victims and family members who help them — but that only exists in 7 states so far … When 1 in 3 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, this is a misstep and missed opportunity. Domestic violence has a huge impact on our workplaces because of the effect on absenteeism, tardiness and mental focus. And over 75% of victims admit to being harassed, threatened or menaced by their abusers while at work.
In the organizations that are dealing head-on with the issue of domestic violence, this is what I’ve seen that works:
If we are serious about eradicating domestic violence, we have to take as firm a stand on it as we would any other act of violence or moral turpitude in our workplace. And we have to support the victims and their families as they come forward to face the abuse and rebuild their lives. Otherwise, the cycle will not be stopped, the abusers will never get justice or help, and the victims will never become survivors — or better yet, overcomers and conquerors!
I am living proof that when you show someone in a difficult and dangerous domestic situation a little grace, kindness and professional opportunity, they can break free and move beyond it.
Don’t be afraid to offer help and guidance to help domestic violence survivors and their families. It is worth it.