ask the readers: reporting domestic violence to an employer

Hoping you guys can weigh in on this one. A reader writes:

I have a friend and former coworker who is a victim of domestic violence. While I have not seen evidence of it at work (bruises), knowing this person, her work history, and having met the husband, I am certain she is a victim of domestic violence. The problem is I can’t prove this, nor is the police department of the state we live in likely to do anything if reported without proof.

However, do I report this to the HR department or campus security? (We both work at a private university, so the campus police can remove anyone from the property for any reason.) Also, since the coworker is going through some rough times, the chance of violence is increased. I am concerned that if reported to HR or security, there will be consequences against my friend from either HR or security.

Some additional information: They are seriously in debt, which my friend has kept from her husband in fear of the domestic violence. She borrowed some money from me at one point to pay bills, but I told her that was the last time I would do it. She told me she has done this before, from other family members and friends. And she recently asked again to borrow money, because the husband had drained their joint banking account. I told her no, and she tried to guilt me into it by saying he would beat her. I told someone else about the situation, and she agreed with me that there was a problem — but neither of us were convinced that informing the local police departments that anything would be done. This other person was also a victim of domestic violence, so she has some knowledge of what happens in these situations. I know some victims of domestic violence, and she has the same manerisms of those people and including the stories she has told various people, all of which are consistent in the details, I am convinced of the problem.

Ugh, this is awful on many fronts. Readers, what are your thoughts?

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    This could be so many things. It could be domestic violence. Your only job here is to make sure there are prodecures in place to make it safe for her at work. I do not think this should be reported to HR. As her friend, I would suggest giving her all of the information and tools she need for leaving. This does not mean money. This means letting her know what options she has available in terms of shelter, counseling, etc. Let her know you support her choice to leave 100% and that is the only thing you will do.
    On the other hand, I’ve never known someone to say “I need more or my husband will beat me.” From what I have experienced, victims are ashamed of the abuse and will hide it from everyone else as best they can. This sort of leads me to believe this might not be the case. She might just have money problems and is embarassed because she has no “excuse” for why she can’t manage money or she might have a drug problem. Honestly, it could be what she says, or it could be 100 other things. Good luck.

    1. Anonymous*

      “On the other hand, I’ve never known someone to say “I need more or my husband will beat me.” From what I have experienced, victims are ashamed of the abuse and will hide it from everyone else as best they can.”

      I have to disagree with you on this. I am friends with someone who’s ex-boyfriend was not only a physically/emotionally/verbally abusive person, he also had a raging drug addiction. He would harass and threaten and beat her until she coughed up more money so he could get more Oxycontins and Xanax. She would tell me and a few other people because she wanted to avoid being abused. So the fact that she’s talking about it and reaching out for help isn’t unusual.

      It sounds like OP’s coworker’s husband might have a drug addiction and he’s spending all that money in their joint bank account on drugs. And like my friend’s abusive ex, he would threaten and harass her to get more money out of her. That might be what’s happening here, though I don’t know. It could be a multitude of things.

      1. Anonymous*

        That’s why I said “from my experience” and “…it could be what she says…” so I don’t see what you are disagreeing with here other than my personal experience, which happened.

        1. Anonymous*

          Using wormy language doesn’t mean that because you stated stuff that wasn’t factual, you can get away with not being called out on it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The poster you were responding to didn’t use “wormy language”; she acknowledged that she wasn’t sure and that there were multiple possibilities. Let’s keep this civil — thanks.

  2. Anon*

    What is the goal here? To keep her safe? To keep others safe? To get her real help? I don’t see how a report to campus security can do anything but the second of those things, and only if their current procedures are too lax.

  3. VVonderVVoman*

    The police cannot do anything without cause for arrest (proof), in which case (in some states) they are required by law to arrest the offending party. Unless a situation has just happened at home, that’s pretty hard to do with an outside party going to the police.

    Definitely do not discuss the situation at work without your friend’s knowledge/consent, unless there’s an indication of violence at work. Although workplace violence is a big issue, without indications that it may happen, there’s nothing worse than taking away your friend’s autonomy.

    Here’s a link for things you can do as a friend. Most importantly, encourage her to seek counseling at your local domestic violence center and they can give her state-specific and situation-specific information so SHE can make the decision best for her.

    Good luck,

    Domestic Violence Advocate

  4. Amelia*

    The OP states that the ‘victim’ is a former coworker and it is unclear to me how this is a workplace issue, even if the friend is a current coworker. I think that there should be a complete separation from the workplace though and getting HR or security involved would only make sense if the violence was occurring at the workplace. Regardless of what the problem is, there is a problem and it seems to be occurring between the caring OP and their friend.

    While you can approach the problem is head-on with a discussion, like AAM usually recommends, I would say to keep your distance a bit here, since it seems like your friend has you and your feelings on the hook here. All you can do it provide your friend with the love, support and tools to mend the situation herself, because ultimately she is the only one with the power to create change here. I know its harsh but if you continue to enable her by providing her money, nothing will change. So many people, men and women, are victims of financial, emotional, and physical abuse. Finding and recommending a local group to your friend (even attending with her) may be the most that you can do for her.

  5. Katherine*

    I also agree that helping her know her options for leaving is the best way to support her. Perhaps her employer has some sort of Employee Assistance Program that could provide resources. If you speak with HR, I think it should only be to see what type of EAP support might be available, and doing so without “outting” your friend is the best way to go. It sounds like you really care about your friend, and maintaining a healthy boundary while remaining available to her will be tricky. If you were to share her story with HR or Security, you would risk losing her trust; then when/if she ever decides to leave the abuser, she may not feel like she can rely on you. However, if you help her find resources and let her know that you can’t support her financially because you can’t, in good conscience, support any perpetuation of their relationship, then I think she would be much more likely to trust you when she leaves him. Plus, there isn’t a lot the employer can do other than – at best – offer resources. So, I don’t know that informing them of the situation would really do much to help your friend.

  6. Anon*

    This is so upsetting. I’m really sorry for your friend, and I’m glad you want to help her. I just did an Internet search for “national domestic violence resources” and came up with quite a few. Also, here are some resources recommended by Carolyn Hax (Washington Post advice columnist and someone whose intelligence and advice I respect): National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) is 800-799-SAFE (7233), and their URL is (I hope URLs are allowed in the comments.) Perhaps the NDVH can help you decide whether to contact HR, campus security, and/or the police. To my untrained eye, it seems like a good idea to let the school know what’s going on. They may want to keep your friend’s husband off campus. Plus, he could be a danger to other people at the school.

    Just as a side note: I’m wondering how the friend has kept the debt from her husband if he is taking all of the money from their bank accounts. In any case, he might blame her for that, even though it doesn’t sound like it’s her fault.

    These resources are more for convincing someone that s/he has a problem with domestic violence: “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker ( and (threat-assessment tool).

    Best of luck to you and your friend.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This times ten.
      OP, put this in the hands of trained people. I cannot stress this strongly enough.

      If you cannot get her to call the toll free number, then call and talk with them on your own behalf. Ask how you as a friend can help her. Take notes, please, write down what they tell you. You may want to refer to it later.

      Do you have an employee handbook? Many employers now have written policies in place for these types of concerns. Please check there, too.

      I agree with the posters who have suggested that you keep yourself safe, first and foremost. Trying not to sound like an echo, but remember relationships are complex. There may be more going on here than you ever imagined. Secondly, whatever help you provide should not be in the form of cash. Very seldom does cash solve the core issues.

      1. twentymilehike*

        If you cannot get her to call the toll free number, then call and talk with them on your own behalf. Ask how you as a friend can help her. Take notes, please, write down what they tell you. You may want to refer to it later.

        Ditto to Anon, and to this.

        OP, it almost sounds like we have the same friend. My friend has confided in me some information on her crappy situation, and as as much as I love her want to tell her what to do to make things better, I can’t. And you can’t do anything to help her until she is ready for it. You cannot make her want to leave him, you cannot make her call those numbers, no matter how much you want to. Do not be discouraged, but make sure she knows that she can trust you if she needs to talk about anything, and that she can call you in an emergency. Sometimes just being a friend is a really emotionally tough thing to do. Its hard to watch our friends hurt.

        1. Marie*

          I recommend it frequently as well, but I want to put in a caveat. That whole book is excellent — except the chapter on domestic abuse. In that chapter, deBecker engages in A LOT of victim-blaming. He repeatedly says, “The first time you’re a victim, the second time you’re a volunteer.” Which is just about the most disgustingly victim-blaming thing I’ve ever seen.

          It’s a notable departure from the rest of the book, where he steers clear of victim-blaming at every turn and provides exceptionally clear, wonderful, beautiful advice, and it’s a really infuriating chapter as a result. So, in any case, it’s still a great book, I still totally recommend it, but I always include that caveat, because that could be really damaging to read if you’re still in an abusive headspace.

          1. Esra*

            “The first time you’re a victim, the second time you’re a volunteer.”

            That’s very strange, I thought it was common knowledge that many victims of domestic abuse end up in that kind of situation because of past abuse in their childhood etc.

            1. Marie*

              There’s not a lot about domestic violence that’s common knowledge, in my experience. Your mileage may vary, obviously, especially if you’re only chatting with your friends, but as somebody who is pretty upfront and vocal with my experiences, I have had to develop a calm, unflappable response to just about every offensive assumption available, because I hear them so often. “The first time you’re a victim, the second time you’re a volunteer” is something I heard *a lot*, and when I ran across it in deBecker’s work, I just saw red, thinking he had helped push that particular mindset.

              Complete armchair diagnosis time: deBecker talks a bit in that book about his childhood, which was pretty violent and traumatic, and it sounds like his mom may have been in an abusive relationship. So my thought on that chapter has been that it’s the writing of the little kid who wanted mom to leave, while the rest of it is the writing of a super intelligent, professional man with an intimate understanding of how violence operates.

              1. Waiting Patiently*

                I’ve never read this book but my thoughts are *especially since this topic is so sensitive* maybe he wants to infuriate the * victim* by using reverse psychology by labeling the victim as a volunteer. This topic is so loaded but DV issues usually involve more than one victim. Everyone that persons knows is now in harms way….possibly children, friends, family and coworkers as in the case of the OP.
                My thoughts and prayers are with the op and her coworker.

                1. Marie*

                  Whether or not that’s the intention, the effect isn’t readily discernible from the strategies of abusers themselves.

                  Victims get told by their abusers every day that their abuse is their own fault — if that was capable of making them leave, there would be no such thing as abuse anymore.

                2. Waiting Patiently*

                  Anger is often used to get a desired affect. Having your abusers call you a volunteer is one thing but a complete stranger whom you arent “emotionally dependent on” label you a volunteer is completely different. It may not make the victim leave; that’s a decision for him/her to make. It may make them think and that could be the beginning. I think you have given sound advice. I’m just throwing in my two cents as to a possible reason why that chapter is there.

                3. Waiting Patiently*

                  *let me clarify* anger used to motivate in positive ways… and furthermore I don’t know if that was the author’s intention.

                4. Marie*

                  I understand where you’re coming from here, but as somebody who has read the book, experienced abuse, and worked with many survivors, I feel confident in telling you that this does not work, never has worked, and never will, and I hope it’s not something you would ever use, because it’s damaging. We cannot abuse people out of abuse, and the more people who learn that, the better, because it is absolutely most people’s first go-to reaction. Telling somebody that what another person has done to them is their fault and their responsibility IS abuse, full stop, their intent does NOT matter.

                  And, too, remember deBecker’s words don’t just target victims — everybody hears them. He only gives abusers and victim-blamers more ammunition. I have heard his words out of the mouths of many people who told me it was my own fault, including my own abuser. His words are heard by everybody, not just victims, and it’s irresponsible of him to put more victim-blaming into the world if his intent is to help victims.

                  Whatever his intent, whatever he hoped for, he’s done more harm than good, which means I can’t say I care about his intent at that point. And it wouldn’t be hard for him to see the effect his words have had — if you google “the first time you’re a victim, the second time you’re a volunteer” you’ll see who has been hurt by this statement, and who agrees with it. The information on what effect this statement has on people is not hidden knowledge, so I give him no credit for not knowing what it’s done. I can only assume he’s okay with the effect his statement has had.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                I did notice that, and I kind of thought the same thing. I don’t know if the book has been updated since I got a copy.

                You should totally send him a nice but firm email that points that out to him.

          2. Lexy*

            I would like to second Esra’s reservations about recommending DeBecker in this situation. I can’t even read the Domestic Violence chapter. As a person who’s worked for crisis lines and shelters it infuriates me.

            But, that said, the rest of the book is really spot on. I think the DV chapter is mostly just out-of-date… and written by a man who suffered horribly in a domestic violence situation as a child. So I just take it with a grain of salt. But I would definitely NOT recommend that victim blamey stuff to somebody actively in a DV situation… could be counter-productive.

  7. Anon Too*

    As someone who has helped a co-worker I was not incredibly close to leave her abusive (now ex, yay!) husband, AND as someone who has participated in interventions, this smells fishy.

    I really don’t want to play blame-the-victim, but, “Give me money or my husband will beat me,” sounds like a drug problem.

    There may absolutely be abuse as well, especially if they’re both using, but be very careful about making any assumptions.

    That being said, if you are concerned about your, your co-worker’s or others safety IN THE WORKPLACE, if you think Hubby is likely to show up with a gun and threaten her or people around her, then it’s responsible to mention it to security, but not HR.

    1. COT*

      I don’t mean this to sound calloused, but if this guy is harming his wife when she doesn’t bring home money, he’s probably hurting her at other times, too. OP, lending her money will not break that cycle of abuse, so stay strong in your commitment not to give her any more. There are better ways to help someone in an abusive relationship.

      That said, I can see how someone who has already left an abusive situation may need some financial help, but that’s not the case here.

      1. Victoria HR*

        Also, we only have the alleged victim’s word that the money she’s borrowing is for her husband. It could very well be for her, if she’s the one with the money problem. I agree with the others who have said to urge her to call a domestic abuse hotline, or to call it yourself if she refuses.

  8. books*

    Also, if your university has a true campus police vs a security, it’s likely that they would be very responsive to this type of thing. Typically, they provide some guidance in situations which college students think are minor (oh, he forced his way into my room and wouldn’t leave? no big deal) and they typically take assault/abuse fairly seriously. (Let’s not open this to discussion of campus police and sexual assaults, that would be dumb.)

    1. Katie in Ed*

      I’m not entirely convinced (probably because of the latter scenario you alluded to) that campus police would be supportive in this situation. The university’s job isn’t to protect you, it’s to protect the university. I’m concerned that the threats and instability of this sort might be perceived as a liability. However, I’ll fully admit I’m not familiar with how universities deal with domestic violence in particular, so I’d be happy to hear other thoughts and opinions.

      1. books*

        Campus police are there to protect the safety of the students – generally, if something untoward happens on campus, people have been told to notify campus police (not in a 911 emergency but), so they should know things like if someone has a dangerous husband that they may be expected to detain.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s campus by campus, though. We have in-house people we’re supposed to contact for speedier response, for instance.

          1. Anon*

            It is. Some schools have campus police that are just security, others have campus police who are sworn officers of the law.

      2. Marion Wilson*

        Well, it’s worth a try. I think that if a staff member had a genuine problem with domestic violence, or a drug problem, they would probably be able to pay her a visit in her office and have a chat.

  9. KellyK*

    I think the only reason to talk to HR or campus safety would be to keep you and her safe at work. If there are security issues that you’re worried about (for example, a receptionist giving out info about people’s schedules and locations to anyone who calls), you can mention them as a generic concern rather than bringing up her specific situation.

  10. Jamie*

    and she has the same manerisms of those people and including the stories she has told various people

    You are convinced this is a real issue and not a scam for money, and since you know your friend and we don’t we have to assume the situation is as she says.

    What mannerisms are you referring to in the above quote? I’m not disputing that there are some, but are you talking about anything beyond a strong flinch and startle reflex? Because I have both, to a ridiculous degree, and some times that’s just a sign of a hyper-alert nervous system. I’ve had people think it meant something more sinister before, so I wanted to point out that’s those don’t always correlate with violence.

    Also, what is her response when she tells people. Per the post she’s telling more than you about this, which seems to be a cry for help. I would assume most people would have some response to that, and I would assume the most common would be asking if she was in the process of leaving. What does she say when asked?

    If she’s telling a lot of people, but not the authorities or anyone who is in a position to help her, I’m not sure going to HR or security would help.

    One caveat, and this will sound harsh, but if she has mentioned or you have reason to believe the husband is a threat to other people at the workplace then you have an obligation (moral, imo) to report. Because she may be in a bad pattern now where she’s tolerating the intolerable, but she doesn’t have the right to put her co-workers in harms way by her silence.

    1. Anonymous*

      Second not putting too much stock in mannerisms. Early in our relationship, my husband demanded to know who had hit me because I flinched during an argument. We had only been together a few months, had never had such an intense argument before, and he’s a full foot and a hundred pounds bigger than me. No one hit me, he was just scary before I got to know how he handled anger and what to expect from him. Mannerisms are hard to read, so make sure her behavior is actually what you’re interpreting it as before you take it as definitive proof of abuse. As much as I hate to say it, some women use abuse as a shield and tell stories that turn guys who are just run of the mill jerks into abusers to get sympathy and help. Not saying your friend is one of these, but be on guard. The repeated requests for money is a big red flag.

      1. Jamie*

        I have an extreme flinch reaction – which is much worse if I’m not wearing my glasses because I have horrible depth perception and always think things are way closer to hitting me than they are.

        There can be other reasons, but also, totally normal reactions like yours and mine. Yes, my husband is big also and until you learn they are safe when angry flinching is a totally justified reaction.

        1. twentymilehike*

          I have an extreme flinch reaction – which is much worse if I’m not wearing my glasses because I have horrible depth perception and always think things are way closer to hitting me than they are.

          Ooooh! This makes So Much Sense! I am super flinchy AND I have poor depth perception, specifically at night. I never put two and two together before, but if you throw something at me … oh, say, like a nerf ball … it’s instant duck-and-cover. Playing catch was never my game.

  11. Anonymous*

    As an HR person, there isn’t much we can do, especially since the woman isn’t reporting it herself. If she informed us of the situation and provided a restraining order– yes, we would let the receptionist know to alert the police if he showed up, etc. But unfortunately, this is the extent of what we can do. We could provide EAP info but I would feel really weird if someone came in to my office to report another coworkers domestic abuse…

    1. Anonymous*

      Actually, I would suggest she cancel her direct deposit that way she would have her paycheck to pay her bills….

  12. Ethel*

    This is not a work issue, this is a moral issue – it is immoral to pretend the abuse is not occurring and not do anything. Too long we’ve ignore domestic violence, as a community we need to put a stop to it. At the very least there are networks to help abuse victims.

    And reporting it depends on the state, and this needs to be reported – in Alaska domestic violence does not need to be charged by the victim, the state considers it a state issue and will charge the perpetrator in the victim’s stead. In Oregon state if their are children, allowing them to remain in the situation is considered child abuse as well. Consult the state laws, call the police and report this – to do nothing is to allow her to be killed slowly or quickly because the ultimate outcome in domestic violence is someone dies.

    And yes HR needs to know because sometimes abuse comes to the workplace and ends up killing more then the victim, work is often a way that the perp can track and corner the victim.

    1. OR*

      Also, Oregon has employmnet domestic violence protection laws including:
      •Employees who are victims are entitled to protection from job discrimination based on their status as a victim;
      •Employers must provide reasonable workplace safety accommodations for employees who are victims;
      •Some employees who are victims are entitled to reasonable leave from work to address safety–related matters

      OP, how do you think your employer would respond if you or she reported it? Is there a possibility that the employer would terminate her employment? I would be concerned that the employer would fire her especially if they believe there is a possibility that the violent person in her life could follow her to work and become violent. Just a consideration.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    My thought is that when someone’s life may be at risk, you err on the side of notifying too many people than not enough. So yes, talk to HR from the perspective of a concerned colleague and ask what resources are available to assist your friend. Talk to campus security and ask the same thing.

    Better you piss off your friend now than see her next at her funeral. The guilt will be unbearable.

  14. anon in tejas*

    see if the university has a domestic violence policy. some work places do have policies related to how they handle domestic violence in the work place and with their employees (going through the situation).

    many don’t.

    If you feel that security or campus security is an issue, regarding specific threats or threatening behavior on campus, I would call and make a report to campus security/police.

    as a former domestic violence attorney, the best thing that you can do as a friend is not judge. that doesn’t mean enable, or care, or try to help your friend. some of the things that are listed in the post clearly feel like red flags to some that the situation is not domestic violence. I urge you to consider that domestic violence is rarely just domestic violence. Often there are issues of alcohol dependency, drug use, financial mismanagement, poor parenting, intergenerational poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, etc.

    1. Natalie*

      If there’s not a policy, perhaps the OP could advocate for the creation of one. She of course would not want to say “Jane is being beaten by her husband, so we need a DV policy” but it strikes me that advocating for it as good HR practice would be beneficial for the friend, if she is being abused, and for other employees in the same situation.

  15. AF*

    I agree with talking to HR & a domestic violence hotline – you want to make sure you’ve done everything you can to help so you can put your mind to rest a little bit, but you should not take on all of the stress alone, and I’m glad you wrote to Alison for advice. Both resources will be able to help you with (hopefully) practical actions you can take. Also I hate to agree with the people who were cautious about her trying to scam you, but it is a real possibility. Maybe the hotline can help you spot patterns. And do not give her any more money. She might be in a bad situation but putting that pressure on you is way out of line. Good luck.

  16. mel*

    I wouldn’t question the validity. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to assume she has some kind of drug problem and toss it aside.

    Whatever happened to the woman who wrote the letter to AAM about her domestic violence and how much she needed to know that her employers wanted to help her and how awful it was that she kept it a secret from them? No one remembers that letter?

    1. BW*

      ^^This. I just take these things at face value and refer people to professional services. I don’t want to be the one to make the call that someone was lying or manipulating and then find out I was wrong even in situations where I am 99% sure the person is full of crap. I figure if they are in real danger, then they can take the option to get real help from people who are equipped to help. I also know how it is to be a target of abuse, try to get help, and be disbelieved. I don’t want to treat someone similarly. It is one of the most awful feelings in the world, and to this day it screws with my head and I will be reluctant to even go to a doctor when I am obviously sick with some raging infection, because of that fear of going to someone for help and being dismissed and disbelieved.

  17. Pam*

    “I told someone else about the situation […] This other person was also a victim of domestic violence, so she has some knowledge of what happens in these situations.”

    As a first-step effort, you could suggest that your friend talk to this other person if you think it wouldn’t be awkward. If nothing else, this other person might be able to confirm your suspicions of domestic abuse. She might even be able to convince your friend to report the problem herself.

  18. BW*

    Please refer her to an agency in your area that helps domestic violence victims. I am not sure there is anything else you can do aside from encourage her to get help and make a plan to leave.

    Our Place is a wonderful online support forum for people in abusive relationships and their friends. There are many resources listed on their forums. I would encourage you or your friend to join and talk to this community. Many people there have successfully gotten out.

    When I was having a similar issue at work, my manager spoke with HR. Someone there happened to volunteer for a local agency, and while they didn’t work with my county, they were able to refer me to other people who could help.

  19. Anon2*

    OP, I’m so sorry your friend is going through this, and you’re a great friend to try to find ways to help. My fiance is a cop, and he has been called out to many homes for domestic violence. It is true that in some states, the victim does not have to press charges; the police can do that. But, my fiance has taken so many offenders to jail, and as soon as they are out, the woman takes them right back. The moral of this comment: nothing will happen until your friend wants it to. Talking to HR, talking to the cops, all of that may help in the short term, but until she actually wants out, there won’t be much you can do for her on a personal level.

  20. fposte*

    I don’t know if this person is being abused or not, and I don’t think the reasons the OP is giving are necessarily convincing myself. But I also think that assessing the likelihood is a distraction here, and that you take action based on the theory that it’s happening.

    I would call NDVH, first thing out, and get their guidance on how to handle this. I’m a well-meaning amateur in a possibly dangerous situation, and I think I might well make the situation worse if I act without expert advice. Even if the police are willing to come out (and they might not be given the slenderness of the evidence the OP can provide) it’s not clear whether that would be helpful or not. I would definitely contact the EAP, if there is one, and find out if there’s a school protocol as well. At my university, HR would be utterly irrelevant, but I do actually know who I’d talk to in my department; however, since it’s not title-based I think you’d have to figure out if there’s someone in your department or hers who’s the kind of person who runs the radar of the place and is incredibly discreet.

    And yeah, don’t give her money any more, but keep the NDVH and local shelter info ready and offer them to her if the subject comes up again.

  21. Marie*

    I want to put something out there before anything else I say. Victims of abuse are the only ones who have a valid, worthwhile assessment of their safety level. They know their abuser best, they know the triggers and the signs of impending violence, they know how to de-escalate when possible, they know his resources, what he’s likely to do, how violent he’s likely to get. They’ve had to learn all of this to survive. So as counter-intuitive as it may seem on the outside, an abuse victim knows more about whether or not she’s safe (and what will make her safe) than anybody else does. When you begin making decisions *for* an abuse victim, you risk violating her safety in ways you couldn’t predict (but she could have). So I strongly advise anybody from making decisions on behalf of an abuse victim — she may have very good reasons for not calling the police, or not fleeing, or not disclosing to you. It’s reasonable to make decisions of safety on *your* behalf, but you can’t reasonably assess anybody else’s safety unless you live their life.

    I’m seeing two issues here. I’m going to separate them to keep it from getting too entangled.

    First, there’s an issue of your safety and the safety of others in your workplace. Domestic violence can certainly bleed over to work, creating a safety risk for everybody. Would informing campus security or HR make your workplace safer, for you, her, and everybody who could be affected? You know your workplace best, so that’s a question you’ll have to answer. How have you seen your workplace handle sensitive issues before? Does management make good decisions about difficult topics? Does your workplace have a domestic violence policy already in place? Those would all be good indicators of how useful it would be to reveal what you know.

    You can test the waters by speaking to HR and not revealing who you’re speaking about, to see what kind of advice or tips they have to give you, and make a further determination from their reaction.

    If it helps, try to keep the focus here on making the workplace safe for *you.* It’s so easy to get invested in “saving” somebody in an abusive relationship. And that almost inevitably comes with a complete degradation of appropriate boundaries. Abuse is very tricky, in that the thing that feels like the “right” thing to do (save her! shake her and yell at her until she leaves!) is usually the least likely to produce any kind of positive results. So often the only thing you *can* do is make sure things are safe and sane for you. Your coworker is in a situation that might bring violence into your workplace — what can your workplace do to protect you from that?

    Additionally, if you go at it from that mindset, you’re also providing a role model to your coworker. If, say, she hears that you have been asking questions about safety and domestic violence in the workplace and confronts you about it, instead of having it turn into an emotionally devastating conversation about the abuse in her life, and why won’t she accept he’s abusive, and why won’t she leave (that conversation is always awful, believe me), you can very honestly say, “I deserve to have a safe workplace, so I’ve been making sure I can feel safe here.” That’s not something your coworker probably thinks she deserves — being an example for her of what the world looks like when you *don’t* think you deserve abuse can be a really helpful thing.

    If all you had was a suspicion that something was happening, I’d say it’s not worth talking to HR at all at this point. But since she specifically noted to you that her abuser would beat her unless you gave her money, I think it’s entirely reasonable for you to have fears for your own safety in the workplace, and entirely reasonable to mention this to HR (though maybe withhold your coworker’s name until you have a better idea of how HR will react). That’s a very ugly situation to have to confront at work, and you shouldn’t have to deal with it.

    The second issue I’m seeing here is a moral/ethical one. Are you obligated to do something?

    I suspect when you ask if you should do something, you are actually asking (because most people are): “Should I take on the responsibility of trying to get her out of this?” To that, I say the answer is an unequivocal no. I say no because that responsibility isn’t yours, and you couldn’t possibly take it on if you wanted. She is responsible for getting out, if and when that’s safe and possible for her (and she may be making a very rational, logical assessment that right now, it’s not — violence always escalates when the victim leaves). You cannot take that responsibility from her. You can try, and you will likely be disappointed when she returns. You can try, and you will likely be disappointed when she is not grateful, doesn’t listen, doesn’t understand, doesn’t see your good intentions. You can try, and you will likely be disappointed when she gets into another abusive relationship.

    The thing is, abusers strip their victims of any control they have over their lives, any belief that their own thoughts matter, that they can operate independently, make their own decisions. If your response to this is to try and take away a victim’s autonomy, her right to make her own decisions, her control of her life, her belief in her own thoughts, all you’re doing is telling the victim to swap her current abuser for one who seems nicer. You want to show victims that there is a world where they are allowed to be their own person, have boundaries, make their own decisions. You can’t show them this by forcing them to act the way you want — if you do this, they’ll never believe you when you tell them things could be better, because if you’re the representative of “better,” well, you just look like another jerk who’s bossing her around for her own good. So why go through the upheaval and serious, legitimate risk of leaving one abuser if all relationships (romantic, collegiate, friendship) are like this?

    Beyond that, though, if your question is, “Should I do something?” for me, the answer is yes, but the “something” is, I think, smaller and saner and potentially less immediately satisfying than you are looking for. The one thing I would absolutely not recommend is outing her without her consent — that puts her in danger. But, here is a list of smaller things you can do:

    1) Does your workplace not have a domestic violence policy? Ask for one.

    2) Do not make jokes about abuse, and speak up or don’t laugh at those who do (as a survivor of abuse, I can tell you that nothing dries up a feeling of trust or safety faster than a wife-beating joke)

    3) Get some pamphlets or materials from your local shelter and have them at your desk/in your purse. I like having these things available in general — you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had the occasion to give somebody a pamphlet — but having something like that displayed also serves as a green flag: I can listen, I can talk, I can give you a number, if that’s what you need.

    4) Talk out what good relationships look like when the opportunity is appropriate and available. Become an example of what healthy boundaries look like, and how nice life is when you have safety and sane, kind, respectful love. That sounds corny and a little weird, but if you keep conscious of this, opportunities pop up a lot. Like, in a previous job, with a very problematic boss, I was involved in a conversation with some coworkers, one of whom I knew was in an abusive relationship. My other coworkers were discussing ways they had of manipulating, placating, or managing this boss, and I spoke up that I understood them doing what they had to in order to get through their day, but I had higher expectations of my boss, and believed I had the right to speak up for myself instead of lowering my expectations of what I deserved. If that coworker hadn’t been there, I might not have felt the need to speak my mind, because it wasn’t a topic I cared very much about, but I wanted to present an alternative view of the world to her.

    You can also, when appropriate, do this if in a personal discussion. Such as bringing up a nice, kind, respectful thing your significant other did that otherwise might not be noteworthy. Or, if your coworker reveals something you think is inappropriate in a relationship, instead of jumping on it (“can’t you see that’s abusive?!”), you can counter with a story of your own, like, “Oh my gosh, I had a high school boyfriend like that, it was like the most amazing day ever when I realized, hell, I’m grown now, I don’t have to deal with that!”

    5) You can also say things more directly. Abusers isolate their victims, and the only people who will likely socially surround an abusive relationship are those who can tolerate the abuse. Not a lot of folk left who are going to speak up and note that something is wrong. When I was convincing myself to leave my abuser, I thought back to the one or two people who had ever spoken up and told me something was off about my relationship. I felt like I was crazy, seeing things wrong, couldn’t trust my own thoughts, but I grabbed onto those few moments to try and tell myself, “It’s not just me — somebody else saw this. I’m not making it up.”

    So, to pay that back, I try to speak up, but I stop things short of trying to convince anybody of anything. For example, once my abused coworker shared with me a truly sickening story of something her husband had done over the weekend. I said, “Jesus, that’s abusive,” and that was it. She protested and went back and softened the story a bit, but I just didn’t respond further. Or, another instance, when she revealed something else he had done, and threats he had made about leaving her, I joked, “Won’t he be surprised one day when you take him up on it? That’ll be a great day.”

    Or, for something more in-depth, I’ve developed a little speech I’ve given frequently that goes something like this:

    “I just have to say something right now. It’s important to me that I say this. I’m not going to try to convince you I’m right, and you don’t have to convince me I’m wrong — I just won’t feel right about myself if I don’t say this one thing. I think your partner is hurting you, and you don’t deserve it, and it’s not your fault, and I think you could and should leave him. But it’s your choice. I won’t bring it up again, I just needed to know, for myself, that I said that once.” And then I stick to my word, and if they try to convince me it’s not that bad, I just keep reminding them, “You don’t have to convince me, it’s your life, it’s your decision, and I’m not going to try to convince you. I just had to say it once.”

    You might also want to spend some time right now thinking through, in advance, how you’ll deal with certain situations if they come up. If, say, your coworker leaves her abusive ex and asks to come stay with you, what will you say? What will you do? If he shows up at work (not in a violent way, but just a “boyfriend of my coworker” way), how will you interact with him? What if he wants to shake hands? What if he wants to chat? If another coworker catches on and asks you, in front of others, what you know about the situation, how will you respond? These are all scenarios that can be difficult to navigate safely and ethically on the fly, so figuring out (and practicing!) in advance how you would like to react might help you in the long run.

    I also did want to put in my two cents (and it’s worth exactly that much) that a red flag went up when she told you if you didn’t give her money he would beat her. That struck me immediately as somebody with a drug problem. Which doesn’t mean she’s not also being abused! But, to me, it underlies why it’s more important to restrict your actions to maintaining your own safety and boundaries, and not make decisions based on assumptions about her life and what’s safe and appropriate for her. You don’t know what’s happening with her — you only know that the parts of her personal life that are making it into the workplace are making you uncomfortable and alarmed. You deserve to have a safe workspace, and it’s not at all unreasonable to take some kind of action to make sure you can feel safe.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Excellent response.

      This: I also did want to put in my two cents (and it’s worth exactly that much) that a red flag went up when she told you if you didn’t give her money he would beat her. That struck me immediately as somebody with a drug problem. Which doesn’t mean she’s not also being abused!

      I thought the exact same thing. Unfortunately, I’ve known people in situations where the control and dependence extends to sharing the abuser’s vice, such as a substance issue. That is NOT something you want to get involved in. Hopefully the OP will be able to stay safe and still offer what she can to the coworker in question. Thank you, Marie, for sharing what you’ve learned from your experience. I’m so sorry you had to go through it.

    2. Nichole*

      Thanks for the “green flag” comment. I work in a position that often leads to me serving as a “safe space” for sensitive issues, so I think I’ll look for a pamphlet to print out right now.

    3. fposte*

      Ditto to anon above. I’m so glad you’re willing to share your advice here, Marie, and share it so well, with such clear context and reasoning, that it’s easy to follow your logic and understand your point.

      1. Marie*

        Thanks, all of you, for your kind words whenever I speak up here. Being vocal about my experiences has been part of my healing process — I can’t control what happened to me, and I wish it wasn’t a part of who I am, but since it is, I *can* control what that means and brings to my life.

        Sharing these things, I’ve encountered every reaction under the sun, and usually, the internet is the worst place to speak up about DV — if somebody is itching to just come out and tell you it was your fault and you deserved it, it’ll happen on the internet. But the people on this website have always been very kind and very respectful. I really think the comment threads that have been generated for these topics will be helpful to victims who are googling resources for themselves, and it makes me glad.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Marie, a bit off of the point of this thread: I am hoping you are doing something with this- the combination of your life experience and your ability to articulate what you have learned would make you an OUTSTANDING presenter of this topic.
          It’s none of my business, I do realize. But I am moved by how you address this topic and by your practical approach. I think that you have the ability to use words in a manner that can touch many, many people’s lives. I encourage you to keep moving forward in the ways you think best.

          1. Marie*

            Thank you! I am currently in grad school for a related field, and do a lot of writing about the topic (under pen names — I am still cagey about my abuser). I also do a lot of “informal” speaking, just popping up in places to share my story. I haven’t tried to do anything professional just focused on speaking about DV, because I have lots of other things I’m just as interested in pursuing with perhaps slightly more chance of paying my rent, but I do keep it in mind as a possibility. Very kind words!

            1. OR*

              Would love to read any of the materials that you have or any other blogs posts you have written. Do you have a blog or know of any good blogs on this? I know you said that the internet is the worst place to speak up about DV but if you know of any positive places that you have found online, I would love to learn more.

    4. Dulcinea*

      I worked with domestic violence survivors and really appreciate oyu taking the time to type out all this info. OP, I hope you get the chance to review it carefully, but to me the most important point is this: ” violence always escalates when the victim leaves.” In fact, statistically, the largest number of “deaths by domestic violence” occur when the victim begins to form an exit plan. Victims/survivors seem to know this intuitively and thus are very hesitant to leave (also they are hesitant because, as others have said, a big part of abuse is the psychological effect of feeling helpless/dependent).

      So as for what you can do for your friend, don’t keep giving her money but let her know if and how you are able to help. Try to refrain from judgment. And finally, personally, I don’t think in this instance you can help the situation by making any kind of report to police/HR/others unless you actually see an immediate physical danger to someone.

  22. Marie*

    Oh, also, one more thing I would absolutely never recommend for anything other than an immediate danger: calling the police. If her abuser comes to your work and is threatening or violent? Call the police. If you know or strongly suspect he is abusing children? Call Child Protection (note that many states do not consider witnessing domestic violence to be a child protection matter, only if the children themselves are abused).

    But if she shows up at work with a bruise one day? No, I would absolutely not recommend calling the police. Urge her to do it, yes, if you can. But she may have very good reasons for not calling the police, reasons that have to do with keeping herself safe. You can’t know those reasons (you can ask her!), so do not take that decision from her. Police involvement can escalate a situation enormously, or create other difficulties (what if, say, he keeps drugs in the home? And then she loses the kids, if she has them? And he loses his job as a result of the arrest? Is she safer now? Probably not). Do not assume she just doesn’t know what’s best or safe for her, and do not assume that if you don’t save her, she will die — she lives with the threat of death every day and is much better and more experienced at managing it than you are.

    This is not to say that all of you advocating calling the police are bad. That is such an understandable reaction, and I absolutely know it comes out of the right place. But victims of domestic violence have to weigh a lot of factors in judging their own safety, and these things can be complicated by having different relationships with the police than many of you may have had (for example, if the victim is a person of color, their experience of the police may not be a positive one). Call the police to keep yourself safe, call the police to protect children, vulnerable adults, and the elderly (those that can’t protect themselves), and call the police in immediate threat situations. Outside of that, I’m definitely not going to say never call the police, but start with the assumption that the victim has legitimate, rational, worthwhile reasons for not calling them, and go from there.

    1. Anon for now*

      Thank you. You do everyone here a service in posting this information with such clarity & respect. I am very grateful.

    2. Jamie*

      Police involvement can escalate a situation enormously, or create other difficulties (what if, say, he keeps drugs in the home? And then she loses the kids, if she has them? And he loses his job as a result of the arrest? Is she safer now? Probably not

      Thank you, again, Marie for posting about this. It is really brave of you to be able to speak of your experiences to help others.

      I do think reasonable people can differ on the part I quoted though. I don’t think if someone is raising children in a violent environment with drugs in the home that it’s necessarily in the best interest of the children to allow the abused parent to make decisions for their safety.

      It is as traumatic, if not more, to watch your mother beaten as it is to be abused yourself. And you do say later in the comment that you do advocate calling the police when children are in danger – so maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Because it seems in the part I’ve quoted that you’re advocating not calling the police even if there are children involved because she could lose them.

      I am not judging, and am not coming at this from a place of ignorance – I know more than I want to about this type of situation – but if you have children living in drug infested violence I don’t think it’s fair to assume the abused parent is being rational and making worthwhile choices. I just don’t.

      It’s horrifically traumatic to be taken away from a parent, there is no question…but please don’t underestimate the trauma being experienced living in a home with the threat of violence omnipresent.

      A an adult victim is entitled to his/her autonomy, I don’t disagree about that. But the rights of a child to live in a peaceful and safe environment trumps an adults autonomy.

      1. Marie*

        This is a tricky area, and I don’t think you and I are fundamentally in disagreement.

        To give some context to my comments, I’ve worked extensively within the court system in my state, and seen, from beginning to end, the many results of child protection or police calls. As a result, whenever I’ve been in situations where a reasonable person might feel it’s time to call the police, my decision is complicated by a lot of factors (what county are we in? who’s on call at CP tonight? is the shelter full? what’s the police response like in this neighborhood?).

        I think when most people think of calling the police on a situation like this, they assume that the authorities will come in and “something” will happen. Having seen that “something” play out in court and Child Protection, I’m a lot more… I’m not sure what the word is. Cautious? Wary? Pessimistic? Informed? I guess, for me, when something violent is happening, I want it to stop and be fixed and be safe — I feel pretty confident this is what most people want. But because of my experience with the courts, the police, and my knowledge of my local law, I view calling the police as a potential tool to make that happen, but I also frequently identify situations where I feel fairly confident in saying that calling the police will absolutely not have that effect.

        For example, in my county, like I mentioned, children witnessing domestic violence is not a crime, nor is it going to get Child Protection involved. So I know that if I call the police to a domestic that has not risen to the level of weapons or a serious threat of death, the children will receive no assistance, the abuser may switch to a method of abuse that’s quieter or more hidden for a while (but not necessarily less dangerous), and the abuser will likely clamp down on letting neighbors even see his victim or children, knowing now that one of us is ratting on him. So, that means if I call in a domestic like that, nothing will be helped, and something may be hurt. I would rather continue to have access to moments with those children when I can chat with them in front of their house and provide a good role model of safe, trustworthy adults than have them further isolated.

        Now, somebody without all that knowledge is probably going to find it really hard to *not* call it in, and that’s totally legitimate. It’s not an either/or answer. We all work with the level of information we have, trying to serve the greatest good we can. I guess I would advocate for everybody considering it their civic duty to pursue *more* information, so their consideration of the greater good can get more complex and more potentially useful.

        I guess what I’d like people to come away with is an understanding that these aren’t easy calls to make — there’s not a black and white “abuse + call the police = right thing to do” strategy to follow. I want people to come away with that because there are times when calling the police is probably going to cause big problems, and I think sometimes people see this and know it and identify it, but call the police anyway because that’s what they’re expected to do. It’s hard to go against that ingrained response, but sometimes it’s appropriate, and I like people to have the information they need to back up those decisions for themselves.

        I would strongly recommend to everybody that you get to know your local laws, and program into your phone (right now, I’m not kidding, you won’t do it if you don’t do it now) the numbers for local crisis lines, police, non-emergency police, child protection, local shelters, everything and anything. Sometimes local police stations will have programs where they let citizens come in for tours. And, if you can and are so inclined, volunteering with some aspect of your local government can be an extremely good way to learn how your county actually works. I think people have one idea in their head of how things are supposed to work (You call the police, the bad thing stops!), and are very surprised when they find out how things actually work (You call the police, but Gary was on shift that night, and since they cut funding they can only afford so many squad cars, and the new law change on domestic isn’t very clear, and they didn’t have room in the cells that night, and it’s a new judge on the docket, and the city clerk who files the charges doesn’t believe domestic violence exists, etc.)

        1. Jamie*

          Thanks for clarifying – and you’re right, the impulse is to make it stop and for most people, in our minds, the police is a means to that end. As you have beautifully outlined that’s not always the case.

          I have a close relative who used to be a foster parent, until the birth mother gave away her parental rights and my relative adopted the kids.

          I was looking at it from that side. Abused and carrying a life time of scars (some physical and many more emotional) were removed from a horrific environment to a family where they were safe, loved, and tended to. But as you’ve pointed out, there is no guarantee of anything. The call to the police worked out for these kids – who are now adults.

          I just hope everyone remembers that there are little victims out there, without jobs or support networks…and what’s best for them has to be paramount over the adults involved.

          1. fposte*

            On a slightly different angle, I think that the emphasis on mandatory reporting and interventionism when it comes to child endangerment is good at its heart, but it ends up suggesting that intervention is always a solution and an improvement. And it’s not–intervention is also capable of being deeply flawed and even more disruptive than the situation it was supposed to remediate. (We had a poster here a year or so ago who experienced exactly that, in fact, and expressed strong reservations about CPS intervention.) I still support mandatory reporting because the overall gain is better than leaving it up to human judgment (and as a happy adoptee, I don’t have any romantic notions about biological parents), but even removal to a safe home–which isn’t something that can be guaranteed, sadly–can still be a tough and traumatic break.

            1. Jamie*

              No question. There is no happy ending to this kind of thing.

              The only solution is for abusers to get help before they lay their hands on anyone.

        2. Natalie*

          ” children witnessing domestic violence is not a crime, nor is it going to get Child Protection involved.”

          This is actually pretty important, as a lot of abusers CPS as a threat against their partner. Similarly, when I answered a crisis line we got a lot of women who were scared that being homeless (due to abuse) would lead to them getting their children taken away. Thankfully that’s not true in my state but I often wonder how many women with kids don’t reach out for help because they believe CPS will take their kids.

            1. Marie*

              Oh, they absolutely do use it.

              To clarify for some of you, because I suspect most of you don’t have much exposure to this area (and again, I’m talking about my county), *if* a CP case is open for something else, a condition of returning the kids can be that the abuser stays out of the home. While the existence of domestic abuse itself is not sufficient to open a CP case, many judges recognize that homes aren’t safe when violence is happening, and that the incident that opened a CP case is likely to recur if the home environment doesn’t change (some judges don’t realize this! I had one tell a client the other day that “you two just need some time alone to talk, I fight with my wife all the time, it’s almost never as bad as you think,” and ordered that the courtroom be cleared so they could speak — this to a couple where a restraining order was involved).

              CPS isn’t the worst thing that can happen in a domestic violence case — if the kids are safe elsewhere, it can give the woman a chance to escape without having to worry about them. But it is emotionally devastating, and can create further problems down the line, as it’s usually not possible for women to absolutely sever contact with the abuser in the ways the court would like (what if he has parental rights? What if she can’t afford a lawyer to take him to family court? Courts don’t communicate as much as they should — it is absolutely common to have a criminal court case order no contact between an abuser and his victim, a juvenile court case order that mom must keep him out of the home or she’ll lose her kids, and a family court order increased visitation at the same time). If an abuser knows that telling the court they are back together is enough to trigger a reopening of the CPS case, they will surely threaten to do that.

              I should also note that there are probably counties out there that will open a CPS case if children witness domestic violence, so it pays to know your laws. Mine won’t — they tried, for a while, and it clogged the courts to a standstill, so now, unless the kids are getting abused or have witnessed one of their parents being killed or nearly killed, domestic violence by itself is not enough to get CPS involved. One of the very depressing outcomes of low social service budgets.

          1. fposte*

            To clarify, though, Marie was saying in her county that’s true; in some places, exposing a child to domestic violence is classified as “failure to protect” and is indeed grounds for intervention. I’ve mostly heard about it in cases of reuniting with an abuser after the law has become involved rather than in a case where somebody calls for help, but it’s obviously and understandably controversial.

  23. Anon for now*

    I have very little to add:
    – Do NOT report this to your employer. I watched a colleague lose her job when domestic violence erupted in her life. She then had to deal with that situation while unemployed, and because of the way they shoved her out the door, without references to use to get another job. It’s up to her to report it if she chooses. It is only your responsibility if her abuser shows up & is threatening. Losing your job when your employer finds out about DV is all too common.

    – DO contact your local shelter & the NDVH for advice for yourself. How do your remain her friend while respecting the boundaries Marie so clearly describes above? What resources are available in your community?

    Thank you for your care & concern. Please take this as an opportunity to educate yourself, & to think about & practice responding to situations as Marie laid them out.

    1. Jamie*

      Losing your job when your employer finds out about DV is all too common.

      I had no idea that was a common employer reaction. That is absolutely sickening.

      1. Marie*

        It absolutely is. On the one hand, it’s shocking and appalling, but, you know, I assume we’ve all read enough of Alison’s archives to see how many awful bosses there are in the world. Just imagine one of them getting a domestic violence disclosure, and it becomes more apparent how this happens.

      2. Anonymous*

        It is very common, unfortunately. My friend almost lost her job because of DV and supposed “lack of productivity.” But that risk was what gave her the courage to leave her abuser and luckily, she was able to salvage things with her employer. But I know of friends of friends who weren’t as lucky.

        There should be a law that prohibits employers from firing domestic violence victims, but that could pose a lot of other problems.

      3. Katie in Ed*

        This is what inspired my comment above. Maybe it’s cynical, but your employer doesn’t really have an incentive to protect you from abuse. It only has an incentive to protect itself (which might involve protecting you, but it might involve washing its hands of you so it doesn’t have to touch all the thorny nuance Marie so eloquently described).

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I have seen this one, too, Jamie. It stems from ignorance, not having any other plan, not caring, etc. OP should be aware of this potential reaction, too.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m usually on the side of work not being personal – but this breaks my heart. Way to pull the rug out from under someone. People in this situation are in enough trouble, losing what may be the one stable thing in their lives and source of income could be devastating in a way that most people cannot comprehend.

          If I made the call to fire someone due to this I don’t know how I’d ever clean again…or sleep.

    2. OP*

      Yes I’m concerned her direct supervisor would fire her over this. He’s just not a very good manager, and is very critical of her work, mostly without just cause. Her previous boss? I’m positive he would have been supportive and have tried to help with at least providing info about the local woman’s shelter, if not more.

  24. A somewhat new reader*

    Having spent many years working for a free legal clinic, I can tell you there are many reasons DV victims avoid calling the police. For some, they want to get out of the relationship before their state’s DCFS (dept of children and family services) gets involved so their kids don’t get thrown into the system. Others may avoid calling the police because their family member is violent due to a mental illness. In which case their family could be involuntarily hospitalized or could face a criminal restraining order which for many means homelessness for the individual who is sick (because they can’t come home with out violating the restraining order).

    I’m not saying these are good reasons, but they are common and very real considerations. I can certainly understand your instincts to want to protect your friend, but having spent many years assisting clients I can tell you that people have to take some steps to help themselves.

    Rather than trying to swoop in and fix the situation by calling the police or campus security, why not have a discussion with your friend about her situation and the options she has. You could call a national DV hotline or get the number of a local DV shelter from 211 to ask for advice on the best way to approach her. By calling the authorities or disclosing information to HR you are making decisions for her and potentially aggravating an already delicate situation. But by having a discussion with her you can help her think through her choices, offer support, and let her know about the local DV resources in your area.

  25. Maria*

    Domestic violence is a protected class, the employer can’t retaliate. I would talk to her, in private, about your concerns.
    I also think referring her to the EAP office or HR is a wise idea. They may be able to help refer her to programs that could help. I am not sure you should approach those entities yourself, definitely not the police, you could endanger her more.
    As an aside, there was a notable local case where the husband was eventually convicted because the employer had kept notes on a calendar when she came to work after having been beaten which was ultimately used in court to corroborate the wife’s testimony, when the wife was ultimately ready to leave (her choice) and press charges. I always urge those who notice things like this to do this, privately (I would not even mention to her that you’re doing it at this point) in case eventually that person does decide they want to press charges, they’ll need independent corroboration. Or urge HR to do this, when she comes to work bruised and so forth.

    1. fposte*

      It looks like some jurisdictions explicitly forbid discriminating against victims of domestic violence, but it’s not explicit in federal legislation; the EEOC has weighed in on ways in which discriminating against victims can breach Title VII or the ADA, but victims of domestic violence aren’t a specific protected class in the U.S. Here’s the EEOC:

    2. Anonymous*

      “Domestic violence is a protected class, the employer can’t retaliate.”

      As far as I know, they’re not protected. But even so, employers can manipulate the firing to that of “risk management” or “productivity issues.”

      1. Marie*

        Yes, I’m not aware of any state where DV is a protected class.

        And, additionally, the way the law works, it’s not that the employer “can’t” retaliate — it’s that doing so leaves them open to a lawsuit. Somebody actively involved in an abusive relationship is very unlikely to have the time and resources to initiate a lawsuit.

        I just want to make sure that’s clear, as I wouldn’t want victims making decisions about their employment thinking they’re protected when they’re not. Your local DV shelter will very likely be able to give you more specific information, if this is a concern for any readers.

        1. fposte*

          Excellent reminder. Such laws work mostly as a deterrent. Once you’ve got somebody that isn’t deterred, there aren’t discrimination cops that make the employer stop on the spot–all you can do is seek recourse after you’re fired, which doesn’t feed you in the meantime.

    3. A somewhat new reader*

      Whether domestic violence is a protected class depends on the jurisdiction. There may be other forms of protection, i.e. sex discrimination but you would need to contact an attorney or legal clinic in your area to determine what forms of legal protection may apply. For legal issues specifically related to work and domestic violence here is a helpful guide from the ABA:

    4. Anon for now*

      Employers who want to get rid of a DV victim can come up with all sorts of “legitimate” ways to get rid of an employee. It can be unbelievably ugly. In the case I watched unfold at work, my colleague was treated abominably, including patently ridiculous accusations of endangering others by her own actions at work generated as excuses to get rid of her FAST.

      My colleague already had her hands full; taking the employer to court wasn’t in the cards at the time.

      1. Anonymous*

        I should have added that the “endangering others” bit was that she sent me on a regular errand to the bank 2 blocks away with one coworker, as usual. Given that that happens often, we were pretty surprised to learn that it was suddenly seen as a “life threatening” request. It was astonishing to see what they’d invent to get rid of her. I was sorry to learn that this is a common reaction, but I’ve heard a lot of it since.

  26. saf*

    National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

    Call them. They can advise you on how to help this person.

  27. OP*

    A little more info: from what I’ve been told of the husband’s actions, he has a gambling problem and alcohol additction. He also comes from an abusive household. I don’t see any evidence of her having a drug problem (but I won’t exclude that, as a reaction to the abuse). What I do see is mental evidence of abuse which shows in how she reacts to things; it’s not a startle response, but more of a complete inability to defend herself when she’s right against anyone, but most especially her boss. She also can’t admit that when she is treated unfairly at work, that it IS unfair, and she doesn’t deserve that. She has never admitted that what her husband is doing is wrong. As far as his actions go, it’s already spilled over to her work, and he’s forced her to allow him access to her work email. He’s also done some stalkerish behavior in the past, so it’s completely possible that one day he may visit campus, and who knows what will happen then. I know her other friends and her relatives have all offered to help if she where to leave, but I have not asked if she knows about other resources to help nor have I told her about the hotlines and other campus resources that may help, as we also have some mental health resources available. It doesn’t appear there is a campus policy specifically about domestic violence, but I will contact HR to verify (not giving HR her name). I understand all I can do is to be available to help, but it isn’t my fault if she won’t accept help.

    1. Marie*

      That’s all extremely hard to watch. I’m sorry you have to experience this, it’s gut-wrenching.

      Whether or not you feel comfortable approaching the topic of the abuse itself with her, you have more than enough to speak to HR about, because this directly affects you and your ability to do your job safely and comfortably.

      Those self-blaming, shutting down responses, it feels gross inside when you see somebody else doing them. If nothing else, you have an excellent opportunity to plink away at her abused mindset by addressing the job. You may not ever have an appropriate opportunity to say something like, “Hey, your husband — holy crap, what is that about?!”, but you can certainly offer a kindly, respectful, “The way you reacted to the boss there? I don’t think that’s necessary. You can speak up for yourself, I do it all the time, and nothing bad happens to me, right?” Those lessons are generalizable, and speaking as somebody who was on the other side, I absolutely did notice the people who seemed able to “get away” with things I couldn’t, and wonder what it was that let them do that. So that is something you can do for her, even if it feels small.

      1. OP*

        Thanks Marie, I was hoping you would post.

        It’s hard to explain to others who have not seen, or have not known they have seen, domestic violence or a victim of domestic violence, how you know, without seeing it, that domestic violence is occurring.

        1. Anonymous*

          You’re right. Unless you’ve been through it yourself or someone very close to you has been through it, most people are oblivious. Or they notice it, but they don’t say anything. It’s an absolute shame.

    2. Elizabeth*

      he’s forced her to allow him access to her work email.

      This causes me grave concern. This may have caused her to violate an employment agreement she may have with the university you work at, particularly if she is privy to any student records, be the financial or academic.

      Healthcare has HIPAA (Health Insurance Portablity & Accountability Act), and education has FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). They protect patients and students, respectively, from unauthorized access to their information. Both are federal laws that carry some significant consequences if they aren’t adhered to.

      We would fire someone who allowed their spouse access to their email. Period, stop. Doesn’t matter why. We have a federal legal obligation to protect the privacy of the people in our care. I’ve been involved when we’ve had to do it, and it is ugly and unhappy. But, our obligation to protect the people who have placed their trust in us has to come before the compassion we feel for someone in an untenable situation.

      If we discovered that a colleague of the person who had allowed the unauthorized access was aware of it and did not report it, they would be subject to discipline, as well. There is a legal obligation to report known violations of patient confidentiality, and not reporting a violation is almost as bad as committing the violation.

      Unfortunately, your colleague may have placed herself in a dangerous situation with regard to her employment, if her abuser has had access to student information. FERPA carries some substantial penalties for the institution if the Department of Education investigates, and the easiest way to avoid those penalties is to terminate the employment of the violator.

      1. LJL*

        What Elizabeth said. That is concerning and could easily endanger her job, which may well be what the abuser would like.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Ah, this explains the “I need money or he’ll beat me” thing. Totally enabling behavior, to his addiction.
      Your last sentence is spot on. You can do what you can, but it really is up to her to take that step. I’m sure it’s utterly terrifying to do so.

      Reading this thread makes me thank my lucky stars I haven’t been in this situation. I really am grateful.

  28. nyesvenksa*

    I’d advise OP to check with the Attorney General’s office in her state. Some states have mandatory requirements to report adult and child abuse. This is especially important in an environment such as a university (“private” university notwithstanding), where members of the public could be at risk simply for being in contact with the abused individual.

    1. LJL*

      It is never a bad idea to learn the basics of who is a mandated reporter and the legal definition of abuse in your area. I did last year and was surprised at what I learned, both good and ill.

  29. Natalie*

    Someone here (Marie, maybe it was you?) once mentioned they kept a card for domestic violence shelter with a hotline number on their desk, propped up and visible I thought this was a really fantastic idea. You never know who you work with who may need that help, and they don’t need to worry about their abuser finding a card or pamphlet or whatever.

    1. Marie*

      Yes, that was me. I got the idea in a college course. We came in one morning, and the professor had a DV crisis number on the board. She told us all to write it down, and after we did, she explained that if she hadn’t made us all do it, the people in the room who really needed it wouldn’t write it down for fear that others would see them. So I always try to think of ways to make that knowledge available to everybody without singling out the individuals who need it.

  30. Michelle*

    I want you to know that your advice about adressing difficult topics is helpful beyond the issue of domestic abuse. A few weeks ago, I cherry picked the posts from february 3rd and 5th in which you and others discussed this issue. After I raved about all the insightful info and listed specific ideas from those posts, my psychologist wanted a copy too.
    I especially like your idea that debating whether or not an awkward issue exists is not “on the table” for debate, but what can be done about it is. (I’ve never been abused by a partner, but have several unpleasant issues in my life that sometimes require opening a discussion. Thanks for the tips.)
    Your unusual ability to organize and explain what you know in writing is striking.

    ps. Alison, this is the only blog I’ve ever followed! It’s like people watching in print–very addictive. And very helpful too. Thanks.

    1. Michelle*

      pps. I know nothing about drugs, drinking, etc., but have been led on by a would-be friend who used her hardships to get others to do things for her. The combination of the OP’s friend confiding that she’d be abused if she couldn’t come up with money and asking the OP for it sent up my fishy-o-meter.
      Yes my would-be friend had real problems, and yes she used them to use other people. I finally had to end the relationship.
      Just because someone is abused doesn’t mean they can’t abuse.
      Go slow. Use caution. Good luck.

  31. Anonymous*

    What is your intention here? To help her?

    The only clear thing you have to go on is when this happened: “she tried to guilt me into it by saying he would beat her.” Everything else is pure assumption on your part. I’d bring up that conversation again, and give her some resources to get help for a potentially abusive relationship.

    Whether she takes you up on using the resources or not is her decision. All you can do is provide information for her.

  32. Anonymous*

    One other thing you can do – let her use your phone to make those calls if she can’t make them privately at work. That way if her cell phone use is tracked those calls won’t be found.

    Give her paper format info at work, don’t hand her something outside, en route home, when she doesn’t have a way to stash it safely. She can’t take any of that info home with her.

  33. Marion Wilson*

    Having joint bank accounts in a relationship, except for something like a mortgage, is a mistake. If you earn your own money, in my opinion, it is important to keep at least a good portion of that in a separate account, and this is the reason why. She is not the first victim of economic violence I have seen who has had a joint bank account drained. What to do about it? Well, if it’s got to the stage where they are in debt because of his spending, he’s drained their joint bank account, and he’s threatening to beat her, she needs to leave him. As hard as it may sound, he could end up killing her if she stays.

    1. Jamie*

      That is a really broad statement. There are about as many different ideas about how a married couple should manage money as there are marriages out there.

      I can see the wisdom of separate accounts in the case of abusive relationships, or those who just choose to do it that way…but absent any abuse or spending issues joint accounts aren’t a mistake – just one of many options. I personally have never felt the need for a separate account.

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