Case study: Kate
'I was with my ex-husband for 21 years. From the beginning, although he was quite charming and gregarious, he was also controlling but at that point I didn’t see it as abuse. Over time, he became very derogatory towards me, and told me I was worthless and that no-one else would want me. He made me feel like I was losing my mind. He’d say we’d had conversations which we’d never had and deny those we’d had. I felt as if I was going mad. It would come in cycles: everything would be OK for a while and then it would start up again. From the outside we looked like we were a perfect family but we [Kate and her daughter] would be walking on eggshells around him as his behaviour became increasingly unpredictable. He used to tell me that he’d kill himself if he lost me but, over time, that changed to telling me that he’d kill me if I ever left him.
I was working in a senior position doing a job I was good at and felt confident in, although that had been in decline after my husband joined the same organisation. It gave him more access to me and control, which he exploited. He ended up working in close proximity to me and could even come into my office. I was losing confidence at work because, when my husband was working in the building, it brought the fear I had at home into my workplace.
His cycle of abuse would always culminate in him apologising and bringing me bunches of flowers. So, he’d bring the flowers to me at work. He’d come in and make show of hugging me but then would whisper threats into my ear, “If you effing tell anyone, I’ll …” He phoned and sent texts of the same nature: he kept me in a state of fear. No-one at work knew what was happening. My attendance was OK but when I was at work, I was exhausted and anxious and my moods were unpredictable. I’d burst into tears but I’d blame it on pressure at work.
I dreamed of a way out for over ten years, waiting for an opportunity. Eventually, it all broke down in a massive incident when he was arrested and then released on bail with restrictions on coming to the house.’ While her husband was in custody, Kate wrote to HR to report what happened and access support. However, she never received a response.'
Kate went on a leave of absence and when she returned, ‘They expected it to be all over. They thought that the one incident which resulted in court orders was the extent of domestic abuse. They didn’t understand about coercive control, and that they were allowing him to continue to manipulate me at work.’
While she was on leave, her employer conducted a risk assessment and implemented a safety plan. Kate wasn’t involved in any part of the process, and therefore her employer was unaware of the risks the perpetrator posed.
‘The safety plan was limited to saying that we should park in separate car parks, and that he was not allowed to come into my office. I’d often find his car parked next to mine when I left work; and if I went to the loo, I’d bump into him. It made it impossible to function at work. A year down the line I got an agreement that I’d be told if he’d be in my area of work, and I would then be expected to take annual leave if I wanted to avoid him. I was also allowed to lock my office door as my office was in a quiet corner of the building. But over time, any safety measures they put in relapsed or were forgotten.’
In spite of having a policy to support employees experiencing domestic abuse, Kate felt unsupported by her employer and felt that they didn’t take the situation seriously. ‘My manager did her best to be sympathetic but she didn’t always say the right thing, such as “oh, but he didn’t hit you”’.
‘The disciplinary hearing resulted in a written warning, which expired after a year. He was able to minimise what happened and put it down to one event fuelled by alcohol. It felt as if my employer colluded with him. They should have invited me to participate and should have taken a statement from me. They should have had a woman on the panel or at least someone who knew about coercive control. All the ideas I had about what might help me feel safe at work were dismissed.
‘Although I could have raised a grievance, I had limited scope as to who I could approach. And I was exhausted. From the responses I’d had I didn’t think the end result would be any different, and I didn’t want to put myself through any more. So, I eventually ended up long-term sick and didn’t go back. I left because they compounded the domestic abuse by their response. I felt let down by them. I’d worked for them for ten years; it felt like it was a strong working relationship; and they let me down.’
What could have been done differently? Kate says that her employer should have, ‘Listened to me, believed, spoken realistically about what they could and couldn’t do and signposted. They should have made sure that there was some kind of written response to my initial letter which said: thanks for telling us; this is what we will do; and your safety will be our first priority. In not listening to my story, they didn’t get the full picture. And in not understanding about domestic abuse, they didn’t take the right action although I’m sure they think they did the right things.’Go back to the Domestic Abuse homepage