Being in an abusive relationship isn't something you plan on. In fact, sometimes you don't even realize that's what's happened to you until you wake up in your car in a train station parking lot, covered in bruises and dried blood (from where your teeth cut the inside of your lip after you failed to dodge a wild punch) praying you don't have a black eye and that no one will notice you're wearing the same thing you wore to work yesterday.
Thank goodness you ran out when you did, even if you had to sleep in your car. Thank goodness you stashed that concealer (don't think that's what L'Oreal means by "dark circles") and deodorant in your desk after the last time. Maybe you can duck into Filene's Basement on your way to the office and find a new outfit on the clearance rack.
That should have been my wake-up call, but it wasn't. I should have known exactly what was happening and what I had to do, but that's the thing about abuse and abusers -- they know exactly how to isolate and manipulate you into believing it's your fault and that you're completely alone. Now, older and wiser, I know it wasn't just me -- though yes, that incident did happen to me -- and that these kinds of scenarios are playing out even as I write this. But I didn't feel I had any support or resources; nowhere to turn and no one to ask for help.
It was another year, a cross-country move and a new job later before I managed to gather the inner strength and the external resources to leave that relationship, and honestly, I wouldn't have been able to do so were it not for my job and my workplace.
It was the regular paychecks that allowed me to squirrel away enough cash to pay the security deposit on an apartment in a secure, gated community. It was the understanding and empathetic managers and colleagues who (among other things) allowed me off-hours access to the building so I could vary my work hours and confuse my abuser when they stalked me. It was my colleagues who kept watch on the parking lot to make sure no one was waiting for me when I left; the friend who allowed me to crash at her place night after night when I wasn't sure my apartment was safe; the manager who let me switch to an office without a window because I felt much too exposed. It was the IT personnel who patiently reset my passwords when my abuser hacked me for the third (and fourth and fifth) time. It was the manager who, without flinching, covered for me when I had to race out of a meeting because my abuser was threatening to harm my cats if I didn't get home right away.
Rest assured, I did leave that relationship. But it would have been infinitely more difficult -- and damn, it was difficult already -- without the help and support of my workplace friends, colleagues and supervisors.
It's not easy to talk about, certainly, but domestic violence and intimate partner violence cannot be allowed to blossom and thrive in silence and secrecy. It affects 12 million women and men each year. Twenty-nine percent of women and 10 percent of men in the U.S. say it impacts their ability to function. Nearly 15 percent of women and 4 percent of men were injured because of it.
Sometimes a workplace is the only safe space victims and survivors have. I know, because work literally saved my life. What can you do to make sure your workplace is a safe space for those who are victims or survivors? You can be flexible, for starters. If you suspect or are certain that someone you work with is a victim of DV or IPV, cut them some slack. Even if they don't want to admit it themselves (it took me much longer than it should have to admit what was happening and even more time to work out the logistics of leaving). Give them time off if they need it, whether it's to nurse injuries or to go to court or to search for a shelter or a new apartment. You also can accommodate requests for varied working hours, or a different office space, or a new phone number or email address. You can make sure your security is tight so that an abuser can't get to them physically or virtually.
And you can enshrine these policies in your code of conduct or your official workplace rules. Here's a fantastic example policy to check out; here's another. And educate yourself about the prevalence of DV and IPV and how it affects your friends, colleagues and reports.
I consider myself lucky -- I had the support and resources available to me, and I got out. Abuse is already isolating, traumatizing and can even be deadly. Do what you can to create a safe space at the office. You could save a life.