I think my employee is being abused by her partner

Content warning for discussion of abuse below.

A reader writes:

I have been a director at my organization for a few years now in a small town. We have a staff of 23. Some have been here for 20+ years, some are new, but it’s a pretty great group of people and we all work well together.

To get right to the point, one of my employees, Carrie, appears to be in an abusive relationship and doesn’t realize it. She had a very religious upbringing (not uncommon for the area or amongst the staff) and met her now husband, Bob, when she was 15 and he was in his mid-twenties. They’ve been together for 10 years or so.

Bob is dismissive, arrogant, and entitled, and has physically grabbed Carrie at work, even through the Covid shields. Multiple staff have come to me with scenarios that make them uncomfortable, although they (and Carrie) often brush it off, saying, “That’s probably an inside joke” or “I’m sure he means well.” She frequently shares stories as venting/joking, but they leave us all floored, and sometimes horrified, but nothing actionable.

Multiple staff who are close with her have told me about incidents, the most jarring being Bob seeing her waiting (he is frequently late picking her up, which is a problem especially in winter, when temps are often -35) and when he arrives, he will accelerate his car in the very small parking lot, nearly hitting her. He always slams on the brakes or swerves, but it’s concerning to all of us. One time, Carrie was waiting next to a building and he accelerated directly at it/her, so there’s no mistake he’s doing this deliberately to frighten her.

Other times she’ll call him to see if he’s there and he’ll yell at her that he’s been waiting for her, but when they get outside, he’s nowhere to be seen. When she calls again, he says he’s just leaving and he doesn’t understand why she thinks he was there already.

I don’t know how to counsel my staff, much less help Carrie. My greatest fear is that he will kill her and tell the police that it was “just a joke.” I am also afraid that if I directly confront him, he will force her to quit and then she will have no support system nearby.

Please, any advice would be helpful. This is so far out of anything I’ve had to deal with in over a decade of management. I genuinely don’t know what to do.

Oh no, this is awful.

I wanted to bring experts in on this, so I spoke with Micaela Deming, the policy director for the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who said:

Domestic violence survivors are constantly navigating their safety. They are the experts in their abusive partner’s behavior and should be empowered to make the decisions about their safety. If there are any children involved, studies show that the abusive parent (some studies specifically say abusive father) is likely to get more time with or even full custody of the children than a non-abusive father or a parent raising the abuse in a custody case. During and after separation from an abusive partner is also the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim. These are just two examples of how complicated it can be to leave an abusive relationship.

The manager is absolutely right to be concerned that the abuser would force the employee to quit their job if the employer took any action to intercede. Losing a job and supportive colleagues increases isolation and the amount of control that the abuser has over the victim. However, this workplace, like all workplaces, has a great deal that they can do to support survivors of domestic violence. Work is a place where training and support can be provided to all employees during normal work hours. Even a safe space and phone number to call a domestic violence victim advocate or hotline can be a lifeline that is too often not available at home or with a cell phone that the abuser has access to. Having a safe place, time, and access to technology that the abuser cannot track can be key to a domestic violence victim being able to get information, make choices, and plan to leave the relationship if that is what they choose to do.

Workplaces should have policies in place to address the impacts of domestic violence against employees … policies should include safety for the workplace, flexibility, and leave for survivors to address the medical, mental health, legal, and other challenges created or exacerbated by the abuse. This is a good place for workplaces to get started. During the development of the policies or on a regular basis, the employer can bring in a local domestic violence organization to provide some training and information to the staff. Given the rates of domestic violence, there is a good chance that more than one person on staff can use the information or knows people that may need the resources.

Ultimately, for a person who may not be identifying their situation as domestic violence, letting them know that there are resources available and that the office will be supportive is a great place to start. If the employee decides to reach out for support or make a plan to leave, they will know that keeping their job (and income) is not going to be a barrier to safety.

I asked Micaela, “Would it be a good idea for this manager to name what they’re seeing to Carrie? If she has somehow normalized his behavior in her head, I wondered if it would helpful for someone at work to say, ‘Whoa, this is not normal or okay.’” Her response:

Yes, I think it can be helpful and supportive to tell the employee (in a safe, separate place) that they are concerned, that way they are seeing is not normal. The relationship here is important because if the manager comes on too strongly or suggests that there is a “right thing” for the employee to do, it can create a barrier for the employee to reach out for help later. Simply expressing concern, saying that is not normal, resources are available if you ever want to talk to someone is okay.

Putting up a flier in the bathroom stalls and break areas, talking about the company policy, having a staff training, are all also ways to help the survivor recognize the signs and red flags in their own relationship in a non-direct way.

I also spoke with Leigh Honeywell, cofounder and CEO of Tall Poppy, a cybersecurity and personal safety startup which deals with workplace violence issues. She offered this advice:

Talk 1:1 with the employee at a time where she’s not otherwise stressed (as much as you’re able to determine that). Describe your own observations of concerning interactions in a neutral, factual manner. Do your best to convey concern without judgement; the goal is to open the conversation and establish a lifeline of safe communication and support. Avoid assumptions about the employee’s awareness or not of the abusive nature of her relationship — the goal is to focus on concrete behaviors that you or colleagues have witnessed her being subjected to to start with.

Share resources such as an EAP, local crisis center information, and thehotline.org or the local equivalent if they are outside the U.S. Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be protected domestic-violence-specific leave available to the employee – New York is one example that has such a “Safe Leave” law.

Leigh also suggested creating a safety plan that includes what the workplace should do if Bob calls or physically comes into the office:

My concern is not only that the manager’s fear that Bob will kill Carrie is very justified, but that he’s also a threat to the workplace more generally. Current or former intimate partners accounted for nearly 33% of women killed in US workplaces between 2003 and 2008, according to The Hotline.

… Given that he has already been physically aggressive to her on site, I’d also recommend that he immediately not be allowed physically on-site to protect other colleagues, but that that should be communicated sensitively given his aggression. The Hotline has a great safety planning resource to start with.

I asked Leigh, “If they tell Carrie that her partner is not allowed on-site anymore (which seems very reasonable), should they be concerned that he’ll react badly to that and force her to quit the job, thus depriving her of what could be a lifeline? And if so, are there ways they could mitigate that?” She said:

That’s definitely a concern, and comes down to balancing the safety (physical and emotional) of the organization overall with her personal safety, unfortunately – while also recognizing that pressuring the victim to quit their job is a classic way abusers isolate and control their victims. The details of any such limits on his presence should be part of the safety planning discussion; strategies for mitigating the impact will depend a lot on the individual circumstances of the office, e.g. it may be easy for a healthcare organization to say “no non-staff/non-patients past the front desk,” etc. It may be that he’s not allowed inside the building, or past a front desk – but there should definitely be a conversation about his presence with folks in the front office as well so that they know to be alert to his presence and escalate to security if needed.

Leigh also addressed what you can do if employees bring up concerns about the stories Carrie is sharing:

• Validate their concerns as being appropriate given the nature of the stories, and that you are concerned as well but can’t go into detail out of respect for the employee’s privacy.
• Convey that it is appropriate to gently de-normalize these disturbing accounts, and share their own feelings such as “that’s a really upsetting story” or “I’m concerned about how he treats you.”
• Share resources like the EAP for them to seek their own support.
• Discuss any workplace safety plans/resources that are in place or being put in place.

I hope this helps, letter-writer.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

Also recommended: Helping Her Get Free by Susan Brewster (Leigh says it’s “super useful for anyone supporting someone of any gender dealing with abuse”).

Read an update to this letter

{ 283 comments… read them below }

  1. 3DogNight*

    There is some great information here. The ONLY caution I would have, is don’t do all of those things today. Slow roll it out, so that she doesn’t feel like you’re pressuring her. Example, put the flyers in the bathroom, and have the 1×1. Or, flyers and training, 1×1 later, and so forth. I’ve been in that situation and all of it at once would make me feel targeted and “othered”.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      yes! and don’t just drop off flyers on her desk or something. I remember an OP where they were not in an abusive situation but their coworker thought they were and the coworker kept dropping things like pamphlets off at her desk.

    2. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Your flyers and training first suggestion is a good one. Those two things would normally go hand in hand, and it gives Carrie a chance to take action on her own. If she doesn’t and there’s another incident, then it would seem normal to have a one on one. Standing back at all has got to be really hard for everyone.

    3. ferrina*

      Yep. It often takes a long time for a survivor to realize that their ‘normal’ life contains abuse. Especially if they grew up in an environment that taught them not to have needs or that they should strive to always be accommodating (I’m not sure if that’s the case here, but it can be common, so wanted to mention it).

      So be aware- it will probably won’t be today or tomorrow or next week. It might not be next month or even next year. Carrie may be ready soon or never. It can be tough to balance on-going support with not pressuring someone- practice compassion in general, be a good example of setting boundaries in a respectful way, keep speaking truth, and take care of yourself and all your employees. Good luck!

      1. Anon for this*

        Agreed, I have a friend dealing with DV. Took her years to realize that her situation was not stable and she needed to leave. Took another 6 months for her to leave. And she was a sahm and now she’s struggling with her kids, and getting the resources she needs to keep a roof over their heads and trying to figure out how to take care of +2 kids too young for school and either go back to school or find a job that pays well enough to cover everything. (and her family is just making everything worse)

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Just to mention in case no one else has thought of it – she may have to get some distance from her family. I come from an abusive family and the best thing I ever did was get away from them. I know it will be a lot harder for her with children to take care of, but it’s something to consider.

          1. Anon for this*

            She has been distancing herself from her family.
            I also have a toxic family. (and I’m not the person leaving dv). And I and so frustrated by family members and people saying “reach out to your family for help”. And they either refuse or make everything worse. In my case, asked a relative for help with cleaning because my grandma was way behind in cleaning, and was just out of the hospital. She preferred complaining to a 3rd party that I didn’t have it in me to work a 40hr/w high stress low wage job, take care of my grandma and clean the house top to bottom.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              It’s been a long time since I left, and I probably had to work up to this, but I just say my family is abusive to anyone who brings it up. If they can’t handle that it’s their problem. It’s very presumptuous to tell people how to be with their families when they don’t know the family intimately!
              Also I would not try to be close or expect support with someone who makes such big assumptions (or lives in a dream world where everyone has a supportive, perfect family).
              Good luck to both of you!

            2. ferrina*

              Ugh, I’m so sorry! Yeah, I also come from a family that is best with distance. It’s really hard, and you really do end up missing a support system that other people have. It makes a big difference in managing life’s logistics.

              “Why don’t you reach out to your family for help?” Um, because they make everything worse? Because they will only help if I follow their rules, which often involve things like “undying loyalty and gratitude forever and ever, no matter how much I insult or belittle you, which will definitely be a lot, oh, and I’ll question every decision you make and tell you how I make such better decisions because I am superior to you in every way and I want everyone to know it”. My family sounds like a villain from a fairytale, so people tend to think I’m exaggerating. Then they meet my family and realize I was underselling it. I envy them that they had never met people so horrible before that they thought these people couldn’t exist.

    4. Abusers Unwelcome*

      That part about feeling singled out and othered is so valuable. Almost no one wants to think they’re a victim. If someone comes in all “HE’S ABUSING YOU, FRIENDO” many people will hunker down and deny it. I grew up in an abusive home, and the people asking overly pointed questions were the ones who simply drove me to go into denial and hide what was happening to me more. Because in trying to help in such an overt and aggressive way, they led me to feel more attacked and unsafe, and like they felt I was too stupid and weak to do anything right. (I got enough of THAT feeling at home, thanks.)

      It was the people who responded to my “normal family ha-ha so funny” stories, not with “That’s abuse!!” but with “No, that’s not normal!/That’s not okay!” and then left it alone who led me to examine myself and the situation, in my own time, when I was ready. That’s how I was able to reach my own conclusion that they were right, and I was furthermore being abused, and I was allowed to come up with a plan to protect myself until I could get away.

      This bit in the post from Leigh Honeywell is especially good and relevant advice:

      Avoid assumptions about the employee’s awareness or not of the abusive nature of her relationship — the goal is to focus on concrete behaviors that you or colleagues have witnessed her being subjected to to start with.

      1. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

        Yes! It can seem helpful to label abusive behavior as such but it can set up a binary that the behavior is or is not, rather than a broader spectrum.

      2. Always a Corncob*

        This is so important. No one wants to think of themselves as a victim, or their romantic partner as an abuser, and it’s a slow and difficult process. Being abrupt or aggressive about it is only to make the survivor more in denial/defensive of the abuser, which makes them more isolated. I liked the wording of “That’s a really upsetting story”; it focuses on the listener’s emotional response, not on Carrie.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. Make it less pointed. Carrie may not be the only one who needs to hear this. Leaving such a situation is not easy and I bet she knows it’s not really “right” but doesn’t feel like she’s in a position to leave yet. That said, his specific behavior like reaching through a screen or being unsafe in the parking lot are definite causes for concern re: the welfare of everyone else. OP might want to talk to building security or HR about how to handle his being on the premises, given this behavior.

  2. Anonandonandon*

    Thank you for sharing these resources. Off topic somewhat, but would you be able to add a TW/CW at the top of the post, since the letter provides some details on the abuse (the car, etc.)?

      1. Elliot*

        Thank you so much! I just commented the same, scrolled up, and saw it was already added :) Great advice and wonderful job handling a tough topic.

    1. SQLWitch*

      Please be aware that the evidence is fairly conclusive that trigger warnings do more harm than good.

      Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702620921341

      The Latest Study on Trigger Warnings Finally Convinced Me They’re Not Worth It:

      The Trouble with Trigger Warnings: https://ericweiner.medium.com/warning-this-article-is-triggering-c1068b4d4f78

      1. Turanga Leela*

        This is really different from an assigned reading for class. A lot of people read AAM in short breaks at work, sometimes in public, and it can help to know that something is going to be disturbing and people might want to save it for later, when they can read it privately.

        For me, the title is enough of a warning, but there’s no harm in being more explicit in this context.

        1. HotSauce*

          Exactly this. I read AAM on my work lunch break and any time there are SA triggers I skip and sometimes read later at home. I don’t want to chance triggering a panic attack at work.

        2. NL*

          This makes me want to ask: aren’t the titles of these posts sort of a warning in themselves? (Like this one and the one last week about an assault.) It seems like the titles make it clear what is likely to follow, so I wondered why people wanted an additional warning. I’m not arguing AT ALL, just curious about why the explicit warning is needed with a title like this.

          1. Anonandonandon*

            Good question! For me, the title is a warning but I also want an additional warning if abuse is described in detail. The title of this post does indicate the topic of abuse is being discussed, but doesn’t, by itself, provide a heads up that specific details are being shared. That’s helpful info for me because I can often read general posts where abuse is mentioned (for example, if this boss was saying “my employee may be in an abusive relationship and her behavior at work is XYZ”) but I can’t always handle reading specific details (like the car stuff in the above post).

      2. hool*

        I wouldn’t call this “evidence” since the focus of the studies are incredibly limited and seem to conflate psychological ideas. People hold a lot of opinions and trigger warnings, but these studies don’t have enough weight to contradict internet convention.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I read a lot of fanfic, and I really enjoy the convention of tagging what’s in the fic, so I can decide whether that is or isn’t something I want to read right now. I don’t really think of them as “trigger warnings”, just “this content isn’t for everyone, here’s the information you need in order to make a good choice for yourself”.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            It’s like having the ingredients on the food label so you can decide “nope, cilantro tastes like soap to me” or “can’t eat nuts, good to know this has unexpected almonds so I can avoid a trip to the ER” or “maybe I don’t want something garlicky before I put on a mask.”

      3. CanRelate*

        I think these studies are interesting, but not conclusive. The participants had more anxiety but they needed to read the passage anyway, and are of relatively small sample sizes.

        Most of these articles are drawing the conclusion that the answer is to provide more comprehensive mental health care and coping strategies, but that is beyond the scope of a blog like this.

        In this instance containing both resources for people to work with and warning people that they might literally not want to read this at their desk at work if it might be disruptive feels like a fair thing to do until a better solution is presented.

      4. metadata minion*

        These studies seem to all be studying whether trigger warnings lesson anxiety/trauma reactions when someone reads them before being exposed to the potential trigger. In contrast, many of the people I know who appreciate trigger warnings use them to avoid watching/reading the content at all. This is going to be particularly true on a site like this, where it’s not something that anyone has to read and there’s no particular reason anyone should be pushing themselves to read a potentially upsetting or triggering post.

      5. Nea*

        Anecdote may not be data, but I for one deeply appreciate a content flag so that I have the information I need to know if I consent to reading something of my own free will in my own free time.

      6. Jessie Spano*

        They specifically asked for the TWs for themselves. If they find it helpful, I think that trumps the “evidence” in these articles.

      7. Dahlia*

        I think people saying “A trigger warning would have helped me here” has a lot more weight than a study.

      8. Irish Teacher*

        I just looked at the first one and it seems…to be missing the point a little. It is saying trigger warnings didn’t help people who read it, but I would assume the point of trigger warnings is to allow people to make a decision whether or not to read it. I wouldn’t expect trigger warnings to help if the person doesn’t have the opportunity to act on them and avoid reading. Like I have a terror of heights so I would like to be warned if there was a sheer drop or cliff edge on a walk so I could avoid it. The warning wouldn’t help if I went ahead anyway. The point of the warning would be so that I didn’t.

        I also think that people know best about what helps them.

        1. JSPA*

          And the other two, based on “one is a link to Slate and one is a link to Medium,” are popular press rehashings of same…not independent studies.

        2. lucanus cervus*

          Yeah. I avoid content about children being harmed. I wouldn’t somehow be happier while reading it if I’d had a heads-up beforehand, but I might choose not to read it at all – or, if I had no choice, to at least read it when I was otherwise feeling safe and OK.

      9. Lenora Rose*

        That’s not conclusive.

        True my only response in turn is anecdotal, but the trauma survivors I know were interested in seeing trigger warnings before reading things for pleasure or things they had to read but could do at their own pace, not things where they had no choice of time or completion. IOW, this only seems to conclude that trigger warnings are bad for the classroom, which is a very specific setting where I might well agree, or in a study — which, it even notes, for ethical reasons has a general warning the study involves exposure to disturbing material *outside* the individual trigger warning applied to the specific item being read.

        There’s also the inevitable “but exposing yourself to the thing that makes you anxious is good!” in the middle of the Slate article, which is at best selectively true. (Just like you don’t throw spiders at an arachnophobe, you don’t intentionally expose people who have panic attacks to their triggers without permission, control, or warning.)

        An example of when a trigger warning is valid is when the intent of the reading is for fun and the thing might spoil fun. EG, oh, here.

        1. Snow*

          Yep. I use a site focused on posting wildlife photos, and I put a warning filter on the dead ones. It’s not to freak out people who will be forced to look at it anyway, it’s so that people who don’t want to see it don’t have to. (In that particular case, it’s a weird hybrid of fun/hobby and work – there’s scientists who use the collected data. But I assume anyone who has to go through these images for their job is okay with seeing dead animals.)

        2. Dahlia*

          I’m not even sure it would be true in a classroom, frankly.

          It kind of seems like they’re missing the point by looking at if people had reduced feelings. Like, the point of a trigger warning in that case isn’t to not be anxious or upset. It’s to be able to be prepared to deal with that anxiety or whatever.

          Also, I’ve asked a teacher for a trigger warning in a class. We had to watch a documentary about climate change and they showed graphic footage of dead bodies and I was like, “Wow, was not prepared to see that today!” and the teacher was like, “Oh yeah that probably wasn’t great.” And she added a warning. I much would have preferred the warning ahead of time to be able to prepare for that.

          1. Rainy*

            When I was teaching university, the material I taught had a lot of disturbing content. (Death, dismemberment, murder, sexual violence, violence against children, animals, etc. Basically the whole nine.) On the first day of class when we went over the syllabus, where I also included the note, I said all of this up front, and said “I will do my best, when we begin a new section, to mention anything particularly egregious; I also urge you to refer to the summaries in the end notes of the text. If there is a topic you are particularly concerned about reading, or where you are fine with doing the reading but do not want to attend the discussion, please email me or come see me in office hours, whatever is more comfortable for you, and we will figure out a plan that will allow you to successfully participate in this course.” Students would occasionally let me know that they couldn’t manage the discussion day for something, or that they’d prefer an alternate reading, and we’d work it out. No one ever complained about the content warning, but I was thanked fairly often for acknowledging the different experiences that my students brought to our texts and to our classroom.

            I’m glad that I was no longer teaching by the time “trigger warning discourse” started, because the opposition to letting people know what they’re going to be reading has never sat right with me. I just think about all those dead dog/friend books we were forced to read in elementary school and how much better it would have been if we were warned.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              God, “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Where the Red Fern Grows…” what was with seventies YA lit and trying to traumatize kids??

              1. Lenora Rose*

                My understanding of Bridge, at least, is that the author used it to to process her own and her kids’ grief over a loss, and the whole thing where it won awards and was shoved at unsuspecting kids wasn’t exactly the plan (though she also got responses from people for whom it helped them with their own grief).

                1. Pdweasel*

                  Plus they tackle themes and things kids will have to deal with in real life, such as love, death, and loss. By the time my 5th grade class read “Where the Red Fern Grows” (which is still one of my absolute favourite books!), I’d experienced several losses already (great-grandparent’s death, pet’s death, BFF moving away, etc.). The point isn’t to shield children from tragedy and the hard things in life, but to give them a framework to define & work through it, and to know they’re not the first/only human to feel that way. My teacher had read that book countless times, to countless classes, and even he still got misty-eyed at the ending, but as a kid it was reassuring to see that it’s ok to feel one’s feelings and express them.

      10. FrivYeti*

        Those trigger warning studies remind me heavily of a spoilers study, in which people who had to study a fictional work were given spoilers detailing the plot beforehand and other people weren’t, and the group that got the spoilers first enjoyed the stories more.

        Except that, as many people pointed out, what the study *actually* proved is that knowing the ending of a story reduces your cognitive load. And the thing about being in a psych study where all you know is that you have to read a thing is that you have more cognitive load than usual, because you know *something* is important but not what, so spoilers are taking one piece of load away from you and reducing your anxiety.

        So yes, if you are *required* to read a thing, and you know that the thing that you’re going to read is going to cause you anxiety, you’re going to have more anxiety a lot of the time. If your goal with a content warning is to not hit a thing when you’re in the wrong mood for it, you’re just… not going to read it until you’re in a good headspace for that.

        The writers of the original study, it should be noted, are strong proponents of the “toughen up” school of psychology, which believes that children and teens should be forced to deal with trauma with minimal parental support, or else they’ll become more vulnerable to trauma as adults. The primary author, Payton Jones, has defended Alex Jones’ conspiracy theorizing by saying that it’s impossible to tell if someone is deliberately trying to profit off of conspiracy beliefs, and also has supported “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” studies, a particularly vile branch of transphobia that uses cherry-picked examples from poorly-run studies to concoct a narrative of social contagion tricking people into being transgender.

        What I’m saying is that I would not trust these studies farther than I could throw their literature.

        1. FrivYeti*

          Can’t edit, so I had to add this as a comment below my comment – I just realized that all three of the articles that you linked loop back to only two studies, one of which is the Payton Jones study. The other one is a study about giving people trigger warnings about *their own* memories, which is not, to my understanding, what trigger warnings are for.

          And the lead researcher on that one is a close collaborator with Payton Jones.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Wow, thanks for all this background, context, etc.

            The idea of using warnings so people can either avoid exposure to something potentially traumatic or prepare themselves for it has always made a lot of sense to me.

            I don’t have actual panic attacks myself, but being smacked in the face with no warning by certain kinds of *graphic visual* material can definitely give me a major jolt, especially when it’s in a context where I had no reason to expect such a thing, and I always appreciate advance warning. I really can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work the same way for people who have much stronger reactions to certain kinds of content.

            P.S. That stuff saying that “children and teens should be forced to “deal with trauma with minimal parental support” sounds like utter b.s. to me!

          2. Lily*

            Thank you for taking the time to share this information.
            I benefit from trigger warnings. I had a father with a very “throw them in the deep end and they’ll HAVE to learn how to swim” mentality about a lot of things.
            I was not sad when he died. Come to think of it, almost no one was.

        2. Rainy*

          I commented above about my experience teaching university courses with a lot of disturbing content, and the thing that I have always thought about that “toughen up” school of psychology is that, as with so much of that kind of thought, the cruelty is the point.

      11. Nina*

        An article (or book!) I have to read and can read where and when I feel like it, or a lecture or discussion group I have to participate in and can prepare for by e.g. bringing a stim toy I find really helpful but don’t usually have on me, planning a quiet space to go to right after… is very different to a letter in an advice column.

        I don’t have to read this at all unless I want to. I certainly don’t have to read it in a place where other people are around.

  3. Ellis Bell*

    The first linked article “dealing with domestic violence in the workplace” which contains advice from commentator Marie is also an excellent resource.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Absolutely this. To clarify, I believe Ellis is referring to the “you may also like” links at the bottom of the post. That first linked post talks about how hard it can be to leave an abusive situation and how to support someone who is trying to leave an abusive situation. The post raises a very important point (among others), which is that you must be extremely patient with someone who is in an abusive situation because you don’t know the extent of the abuse and how extremely difficult leaving can be. Do not expect Carrie to be able to leave right away – or ever – just because you have told her you will help her through it. That support undoubtedly will mean a lot to her but might not be enough.

      I’m also concerned that because Carrie had a very religious upbringing, leaving might not even be an option she is allowed to consider. Could she perhaps realize that her religion’s teaching don’t work for her and that she should also leave her religion? Sure, but that’s definitely one more (not insignificant) barrier to her leaving her abusive spouse.

      1. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

        Even in less restrictive(?) religious backgrounds, even if leaving/divorcing an abusive partner is explicitly allowed and supported it might mean risking her connection with her community. For many religious people, their social life is anchored in their local religious community. One would hope that people would rally around the abused rather than the abuser, but it doesn’t shake out that way. Making false, disparaging claims about her mental health or romantic/sexual activities can be enough for some people to dismiss the actual abuse he perpetrated.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Agreed, this is absolutely true for anyone trying to leave a spouse, regardless as to their religious affiliations or lack thereof.

    2. Bessa*

      Yes, I’m glad you pointed that out – it has been my go-to for situations like this for years.

      A lot of it echos the advice of the experts Alison spoke to, but I think the framing of how a victim/survivor can interpret the behavior of their coworkers is really helpful. In fact, the overall perspective of, “here’s what your intervention would have meant to me when I was in that place” is really vital to anyone dealing with this – a lot of well-intentioned actions can make things worse, and I don’t think I would have realized that without Marie’s insights.


      1. Always a Corncob*

        a lot of well-intentioned actions can make things worse

        This is really crucial. Consult the experts before trying to help. Caring is not enough, unfortunately, and compassionate but uninformed people can do a lot of damage.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Absolutely. Just see that very recent letter about the person who’d been attacked and how their coworkers wouldn’t leave them alone about it. Ugh, that LW’s coworkers were the worst.

  4. CeeBee*

    Allison – thank you for your answer on this. This is vital information for people to know.

  5. PoolLounger*

    I was in an abusive relationship. Even one “I’m concerned about how he treats you” or similar un-normalizing phrase would have been so, so helpful. From a friend, a coworker, a family member, even a stranger. Everyone told me after they could see he was abusive. They didn’t tell me at the time. I had so normalized it (abusers are great at convincing you you’re the bad one, you don’t deserve better, etc) and when no one around me said anything, that convinced me that my abuser was right.

    1. Regular Commentor*

      I had a casual work friend tell me “that’s not normal” and ask “are you okay?” It may feel like asking those questions is not enough, but hearing them from someone outside of my normal friends and family was so helpful. It was one of the main / many reasons I started to realize my situation was bad. I am forever still for that person, and I left my abuser ten years ago.

      1. ferrina*

        YES! The school counselor that told me “your parents’ behavior isn’t normal” was literally a life saver. Often the abuse creeps up from you or is the only normal you’ve ever known, so it’s so good to hear “that’s not normal”. Abusers are very good at justifying their actions, finding excuses, apologizing just enough to make you think that you are over-reacting, and shifting the narrative to point out all the things that you have done wrong. This last one is abbreviated as DARVO- an abuser will Defend, Attack, and Reverse Victim-Offender so that suddenly you are the bad guy instead of them. Their narrative is completely unreliable.

        1. anon24*

          My parent used to very loudly and proudly boast about the things they had to do to keep me in line because I was “such a bad child.” No one ever said a word, and no one ever intervened. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and a friend witnessed them going into a fit of explosive rage directed at me and kindly told me it was extremely abusive. I remember laughing at her and saying “What, that’s not abusive, that’s normal. And that’s nothing compared to what used to happen.” My friend just very gently reiterated that it was abuse. That was the day I realized that I had an abusive parent and maybe it wasn’t all my fault.

          1. bellalye*

            I had a similar experience when my cousin stayed with us for a week during childhood and was shocked with my mother’s behavior. She said “That’s not normal, that’s abusive.” She had just turned eleven, and we were nine and ten.

            Until then I thought there must be something truly wrong with my sibling and I, that we deserved everything Mom dished out. Afterwards, I knew where the fault actually belonged even though I couldn’t leave. That was really, REALLY important.

    2. Harper*

      Thank you for sharing this. This is really good to know, and I’ll take it to heart and gently speak up in the future.

    3. kiki*

      Yes, and even if the initial reaction isn’t positive, it still is likely appreciated in the long run. I know when I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, I mentioned some of my partner’s behavior to a coworker casually and they were like, “Whoa, that’s really mean of him! Does he do that often?” In the moment, I downplayed it and was a little frustrated with my coworker– why was she taking this so seriously when it was nothing? It was just a bad moment, not a sign of a problem!

      But it sat with me and gave me the strength to leave and know something better was out there. I really appreciate that coworker and all the people who stood with me and made it clear that what my partner was doing was wrong.

      1. Thank you, Elaine*

        Sorta the same here, but mine was a platonic friendship with a LOT of emotional abuse. I was used, gaslit, and so badly mistreated that for many years I felt the problem was that I let her treat me that way (which was a problem, but she was the cause; it’s maddening how our mental states can fool us sometimes). A real friend of mine gently pointed out my “friend’s” mistreatment and, more and more, I found myself going back to that open conversation. I finally broke myself free and I can’t begin to describe how much I instantaneously felt like a bird, soaring freely.

        Not the same as physical abuse, of course, but on the mention of having conversations about abuse, my real friend was really there for me, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for speaking up and caring enough to risk bearing my ire.

        1. eeeek*

          Ditto, here. Had a “friend” whose tooth and claw hold on me had me prioritizing her trivial demands over my dying father and desperate mom. It was a more distant friend who braved my “But Marsha NEEEEEEEEDS me, NOW” objections to see that, no, that kind of demand and the casual “drop everything for me” everyday presumptions she was making were not as important as my real priorities.
          Learning all the time, and that was a lesson to learn.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        One theme that seems to be in the descriptions from commenters of approaches they appreciated is that people said one thing and didn’t push it, which left the commenter some time to think about it without having to explain or justify anything to anyone. It’s planting a seed, not having an intervention. I figure the worst thing someone could do in that scenario is try to order the person around and make them do things. Just like the abuser does.

        Planting the seeds and taking the person’s lead shows that you’re a safe person.

        1. Regular Commentor*

          This is really insightful and true. My coworker did not push me. She planted the seed.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Yes. A person has to follow their own path out of abuse, but being the person that puts up a small EXIT sign can be everything to them in finding it.

        3. kiki*

          Yes, I definitely would have been turned off (and just really embarrassed!) by an intervention, especially if it were a coworker or acquaintance leading the charge rather than close friends or family. I know it was really hard for my coworkers to look on while I stayed in an abusive relationship, but none of them were in the right position to get me out. But I do think of them so fondly for all the ways within their lanes that they did help me:
          – not laughing off horrific stories about my ex so I realized it was not normal behavior
          – working with my boss to make sure my workload was lowered when I was going through especially bad periods
          – covering for me in meetings when they knew my ex kicked me out at 7am that morning
          – and so much more

        4. Saraquil*

          When I had an abusive boyfriend, my mom came on very strong about how he was a puppy kicking baby eater (hyperbole,) how dare I be with him, etc. Considering she had the same attitude towards decent people in my life she didn’t care for, I just got mad at her.

    4. H.Regalis*

      Same. Also was in an abusive relationship, and as much as I desperately wanted to convince myself that things were normal, I knew they weren’t. It helped to have friends be like, “I don’t like the way he treats you.” I definitely pushed back against that stuff when people would say it, but it really did help.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, my cousin (who was not raised in a restrictive religious or deeply patriarchal environment, for the record) was married to a guy who was nowhere near this bad but was still a selfish, gaslighting, manipulative SOB. She didn’t realize how bad he was until she told a “funny” story about something he’d done to “teach her a lesson” to some friends and they were all horrified instead.

      (Her parents hated him and she could have gone back to them at any time, but she thought it was just weird in-law dynamics until other people assured her it wasn’t.)

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        oh, yeah. “my husband ‘hates’ my mother in law. ha ha.” “my dad thinks my husband is a jerk. haha.”
        Sitcom themes that make for funny water cooler stories…until they don’t.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I mean, he did hate them, but because they could see who he was and that he was full of s**t.

          My uncle is a bit difficult but I assure you that in general, he and my aunt are very reasonable people who don’t create drama in their kids’ personal lives. They would not have said anything if the ex hadn’t been a genuine a-hole.

    6. Random Bystander*

      And just to add onto this–those outsiders who make the comments “this really isn’t ok” sort of sentiments should not be discouraged if they are not the one who makes the abused party start to seek a way out.

      I still remember my resistance to accepting what I was hearing from the detective who had arrested my now-ex for a crime against another person (spoiler: he did get away with that one), but that another person (counselor … we had been in couple’s counseling and she closed the case to re-start an individual case to keep him from having rights to her notes) got through the next day … but she might not have if the detective hadn’t said something first. Ultimately, he ended up violating my order of protection (and I went the distance on that … he was arrested and got 2 years on a plea deal as a “first time offender” for a charge that carried a 1-1/3 to 4 year sentence), which was how I finally got free (and even got legal permission in the divorce to move across state lines with the children).

    7. Chrissssss*

      Once I received one comment about how something my ex-abuser did was not ok. Unfortunately I was so used to being abused that is seemed a normal thing to me and I ended downplaying it.

      However that planted a mental seed that allowed me to question what I felt was acceptable and somehow my fault, and what should be my expectations.

      So don’t expect her to see immediatly abuse as what it is, but know that it will probably plant a seed in her mind that takes some time to germinate.

    8. Andrea*

      None of my friends said anything to me about my abuser. They did bring it up in character references for a (religious-affiliated, hence the character references) job that I desperately wanted, which caused me not to get the job, which is how I found out all my friends could see I was being abused.

      Because it was a religious community, they also all shunned me when I finally did leave. My coworkers were the only support system I had.

      1. On Fire*

        I’m so sorry that happened to you, Andrea. Both that your friends would say *about* you what they wouldn’t say *to* you, and that you suffered the additional loss of potential job and loss of community. I hope you are in a better place now.

    9. Snow*

      Yeah. I have not been the abused person, fortunately, but I dealt with my best friend and her abusive parents. I had conversations like “no, screaming at someone for hours because they bought the wrong kind of pasta is messed up, your parents shouldn’t be doing that”. (This was a very rich family and they lived 10 minutes from the grocery store. My friend would have happily gotten back in the car and gone to buy the right kind of pasta. The pasta was so obviously not the actual problem here.) She says it helped.

      I don’t know if talking about how your partner would deal with that (“my husband doesn’t tell me I need to come outside until he’s here, because he doesn’t want me waiting outside in the cold”) is helpful; it could come off like rubbing it in. But that’s probably dependent on exact individual situation.

    10. JSPA*

      I wish someone had spoken up. But at the same time, I know that speaking up can be like shouting into the wind.

      A friend who left an abusive relationship said essentially the same thing you’re saying, to me, bitterly, afterwards. And I still had the emails and SMS’s where I told her things like,

      “you know, this is really upsetting to hear–you shouldn’t have to live like this”


      “if he manages not to drink on the job, and not to scream on the job, but he drinks and screams at home…if he makes you unable to work, when you could make as much as he does…he’s choosing for you and the kids to be miserable and dependent, and it hurts all of you.”


      “whether or not he intended to punch the wall, but was so drunk that he misjudged and hit you, or whether the punch landed on purpose, I can’t and won’t help you debate it with yourself. Thing is, either of those things could happen again. And I’d hate to lose you, because of time spent chewing over tiny details, coming up with a definitive answer and an explanation.”

      Her explanation? They must not have come at a time when she could even hear, see, process, store and consider them.

      Abuse creates its very own (gaslit) tunnel vision, though the self-questioning, the mistrust of friends, the sleep deprivation, the desperation to let just a few hours of the day feel normal instead of dealing with the horror that is home life, the practice at tamping down one’s own normal emotional responses because walking on eggshells has become second nature, lest a dropped pin “trigger” an outburst.

      Something as simple as seeing a traffic light change colors, can become a challenge. Something that challenges the one thing that your entire life is bent and warped around? That’s a monumental emotional and mental task.

      And that’s why the small comments matter disproportionately. The, “I don’t know what to even say to that” comments. The ones that refer to stuff in one’s own past life, “back when I was putting up with that sort of dysfunction, before I got my head screwed on right.”

      Because the person in question generally does very much care whether he intended to punch her, or punch the wall.

  6. H.Regalis*

    No advice. This just sucks so much and I hate men like Bob. I wish they didn’t exist. I hope Carrie is able to get away from him and live a happy life.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      I hope so too! And good on the LW for being concerned and wanting to take action. I really hope Carrie and everyone at the workplace will be OK.

  7. Yvette*

    Many companies restrict outside email access and a lot of websites because the computers are all connected to the company network. If that’s the case maybe you could set up one outside of the network for her use

  8. bunniferous*

    Let me add something…..as part of a religious community she might have been taught that she would be sinning by leaving EVEN IF the husband is abusing her. (That isn’t true but I know what is being taught in some of these circles.) In any case she undoubtedly is suffering a lot of shame for being in her position even though the shame rightfully belongs to the abuser. She may feel that she is trapped even if she wants to leave. Whatever you do please make sure she knows you are not judging her for her predicament and that you are there for her.
    Meanwhile my heart is breaking for her.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, this. I am doubly sad that this might be the case but it definitely is a concern for me as well that she might not be able to consider leaving because of the extremely religious upbringing. I only hope she can overcome it all but as I said in another comment, have patience for her not being able to leave or even start considering leaving right away.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      If it’s rooted in a religious community leaving might mean not only losing the marriage (and it seems like being married is often extremely important in communities like this) but everything else–her family of origin, her friends, her social structure, etc. Which just makes it harder.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      Our church has put up fliers in the women’s restroom stalls, listed characteristics of abuse, and a number to call. I thought that was a great place to post that information.

    4. Nea*

      Seconding this – there are far too many famous evangelical/fundamentalist authorities that expressly tell a woman that she absolutely must not leave an abusive spouse or even “badmouth” her spouse by talking about it. Michael and Debi Pearl for my main example, and Lori Anderson, although there are plenty more. Entire books have been written about how a woman will go to hell if she leaves him (because God hates divorce) and that the ONLY way she can change him is to show constant meekness and submission.

      Ex-fundamentalist blos used to suggest that the best way to get through that kind of mental programming would be to speak Carrie’s language, asking about martyrdom or quoting bible verses that disapprove of her husband’s actions. “So, he told you he was waiting, then he wasn’t and said he didn’t know why you thought that? That sounds like false witness to me, Carrie.”

      It’s a heavy load to shoulder for anyone not in her religion, but those who have been in her shoes explain how they were taught to accept the abuse, who taught them and how, and how they broke out. The only blogger like that I know who is still active is Captain Cassidy on Only Sky; she may have some posts with better help.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      If there is anyone who shares her faith, and who is a rational individual who you can count on to not share extreme ideas, they might be a good person to enlist to help. I’ve personally pointed out to many people that the Bible does NOT condone abuse, and actually provides methods of how to deal with abusive people. Eg. David leaving King Saul’s court to escape the king’s abusive/murderous intentions. The principles are the same – respect for a person or their role does NOT mean letting them abuse you.

      1. JelloStapler*

        Exactly, “Turn the other cheek” actually means standing up for yourself, and simply not retaliating with force (other than self-defense).

        “Slapping was an act of contempt, and in this situation would have been done by a Roman soldier to a Jewish person who, if they fought back, could be killed. This wasn’t just a casual insult which could be met with another casual insult, this was a life and death matter. The victim here is powerless. So what do they do? Shame the aggressor by turning the other cheek. Showing the aggressor that you still have power, but in such a way that they cannot punish you for it.”

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Exactly. It’s not “I forgive you” or “I want you to hurt me again”; turning the other cheek is saying, “You cannot break me this way.”

    6. Ally McBeal*

      Yep. The church my family attended when I was in high school DID publicly state that abuse was one of the only valid reasons for leaving a marriage, but I’m aware that women were frequently counseled otherwise in private. Divorcing over abuse was a very, very last result, after asking the wife to be nicer/more accommodating/pray harder, as well as usually some counseling (with a pastor, not a qualified specialist) for the husband or as a couple.

  9. onetimethishappened*

    One thing you might consider in addition to all these things is evaluating your buildings security measures and features. Not only would it be useful just in case something happens with Carrie and her spouse but its a good idea in general (given today’s climate in America). Of course this maybe more complicated and cost money, but i think it should be something every workplace should consider.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      A concrete barrier or bollards near the door would be a smart safety measure for both her and for the building.

      Also, my heart breaks for Carrie. I hope she can use her employment with such a caring director as a safe space from which to find a better life.

      One thing I would encourage is that she be given a locked space to keep copies of important documents, and to be allowed to receive personal mail at the office in the case that she wants to open a secret bank account or otherwise make preparations.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes, I was thinking about bollards, too! If Bob has kept his threats of violence to the parking lot, then banning him from the premises seems more difficult – most small organizations aren’t going to be in a position to have the entire property be employee-only, they might be sharing a building with other organizations, etc.

        Even a heavy trash can/planter/fence that isn’t designed for this purpose and might not 100% withstand being rammed by a vehicle might help disrupt this particular dynamic that’s putting your employee at risk.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Or a bench.

          “We put in a bench since we know sometimes employees wait outside for rides. It’s in a slightly odd position on the edge of the sidewalk by the curb to the parking lot, and it’s bolted to the ground. Funny how no one sits there but one employee stands a few feet behind it next to the building to wait sometimes.”

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I realized my comments might have come across as a little flippant – I don’t mean them to, and obviously any physical changes to the parking lot should be along with the other actions to help the employee that other commenters are discussing. I just mean to offer some suggestions about how the company could help mitigate the danger to the employee from the very specific type of violence that Bob is directing towards her on company property in a non-confrontational way.

            “Oops, our landscapers left heavy materials in that parking space” hopefully wouldn’t set off his alarm bells the way trying to ban him or talk to him about driving slower might.

              1. Ermintrude (she/her)*

                Speed bumps won’t stop anyone from from driving dangerously, they just make it more uncomfortable and might damage the car a bit.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I was thinking that having more stringent security protocols would be a good way to protect against Bob without signaling to him that you are concerned with how he’s treating Carrie. So instead of having security personnel say to him, “I’m sorry, but you [specifically] are not allowed in the building,” they can say, “I’m sorry, but only employees are allowed in the building.” Bob still might react badly to this but at least it wouldn’t be a tell that the company is on to him.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Remember the letter from the woman who was told that her son drove too fast in the parking lot when he drops her off? Her take was “he doesn’t work here; can they really tell him how to drive?”
        Can someone tell this guy that he has to slow down in the parking lot? Not tell her to tell him, but tell him to his face that “we see you.”

      2. Relentlessly Socratic*

        It sounds like a workplace that the public has access to, as he would go for Carrie even when she was behind the Covid shields. It would be challenging in that case to ban all non-employees.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, it does. Just a possible course of action, not always possible in every case.

        2. JSPA*

          A general rule of “employees and customers only”? If it’s anything other than retail, a makeshift waiting room (hallway) with a take-a-number-wait-to-be-called machine to proceed? (Those are inexpensive.)

    3. I have RBF*

      A lot of companies have bollards or heavy planters arrayed in front of their main entrance to prevent vehicles from being able to “crash the entry”. They usually require heavy equipment to move, and might be something for people waiting to be protected by. There is no reason anyone should have to wait for a ride in an area at risk from “out of control” vehicles.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        I vote for bollards! I don’t know how expensive they are, but it sounds like properly placed ones could make things safer for Carrie, other staff, and the building itself, without being an obvious tipoff to Bob that they had anything to do with him personally. Sounds like a win/win to me.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        A local grocery store could’ve used those a couple of months ago. Someone apparently hit the gas instead of the brakes and plowed right through the entrance. It was a miracle that nearly everyone managed to get out of the way, and the child they hit wasn’t critically injured. (Some broken bones and maybe a very light concussion.)

    4. Ellie*

      I was waiting to hear something like this. I feel terribly sorry for Carrie, but there are other people in that business who need protecting. You should make sure that you have locks installed on all the doorways, so that no-one can get in without being vetted by someone (or something, like a swipe card). You should also ban all outsiders from the carpark, due to the unsafe driving. I don’t suppose there is any way you could report that?

      Be kind to yourself too OP, it is so difficult to know what to do. I know of one abusive husband who escalated when he wasn’t allowed to contact his wife at work, and another one who actually ran away when challenged by the very small, short, female owner when she’d had enough of his behaviour. It’s so hard to know what to do.

  10. Fuel Injector*

    “Ultimately, for a person who may not be identifying their situation as domestic violence, letting them know that there are resources available and that the office will be supportive is a great place to start.”

    Is it possible to get an expansion on this? For a person who is not identifying their situation as domestic violence, how do you give them domestic violence resources? You are giving them resources for something that they don’t believe they are experiencing. Naming their experience as DV is not likely to help. A lot of people are in denial, believe their partner is joking, believe they are not someone who would ever be in a DV relationship, etc. Telling them that they *are* in a DV relationship generally just pushes them away.

    My question is, how do I give someone DV resources without naming DV?

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      You can identify concerning patterns without saying labeling them as DV.

      “When he drives his car so recklessly when he picks you up, it concerns me that he could hurt you or someone else. Is he reckless at other times?”

      “If he’s just joking, do you find it funny?”

      “Gee, he just told you that he was waiting outside, but we can’t see him anywhere. Does he do that a lot? I would find it very frustrating if I couldn’t depend on someone to tell me the truth.”

    2. Elliot*

      Oftentimes, you can do this in a group setting – for instance, have a workplace Diversity Committee or HR team post resources, hold a meeting/training, or send out a reminder of resources available.
      Another good way to do this is to name the concerns without naming the issue. For instance, “Carrie, I just wanted to let you know the behaviors I’ve seen from Bob, such as speeding towards you with a car and grabbing you aggressively, are not normal and are concerning. I know you know your situation better than we do, and I don’t want to pry or intrude, but I want you to know the behaviors we’ve seen are concerning and I’m here if you ever need anything. I wanted to give you some resources just in case you may ever need them. You always will have a safe place here, and I want you to know that we’ll take your lead and provide as much or as little support as you want.”

    3. Schwanli*

      Bystander intervention training can be really helpful for just this reason: the training ostensibly gives everyone in the workplace the training to intervene safely and effectively if they can, but it also makes it clear to potential victims, whether or not they identify as such, that certain behaviours are not healthy.

      1. MJ*

        As I was reading, I thought role playing exercises for front desk staff might be beneficial. Not only how to refuse entry when someone is ranting/abusive but also if they are being charming and engaging – often a tactic used and it’s hard to say no to a persuasive charmer.

        A friend does police training on abusive relationships. The scenario they act out starts with them being the apparent victim, but as the scene progresses it becomes clear that actually they are the abuser. Seeing how things can be manipulated by an abuser helps the police figure out responses before being confronted with an actual situation.

    4. Grace*

      See what Bee says below–it’s something that takes time, and repeated gentle assertions that what’s happening to them isn’t right. You give them resources by making them easily available/putting them out in the open where everyone can see.

      There’s usually not a fast or instantaneous way to get someone out of a situation with DV.

      1. Grace*

        And just to clarify, the “them” I’m referring to putting out in the open is the resources, not the person experiencing the DV. It’s good to have those resources openly available, because there could also be someone else who you don’t even realize is in a DV situation that needs them.

        1. Yvette*

          Or knows somebody that needs them. Information about availability of resources is good for everyone.

      2. ferrina*

        Exactly. And one of the big hurdles of leaving a DV situation is “how will I survive?” (in Carrie’s situation, it sounds like she’s lived with her abuser for her entire adult life). Knowing that there are people, organizations, strategies and resources helps a lot.

    5. Infrequent Poster*

      It all depends on your relationship with the person – I really can’t stress that enough.

      If you have a close, warm, trusting relationship with someone, there are situations where you can gently say that what is happening to them is not normal and there is help available, if they want it.

      If you do NOT have such a relationship with that person, comments like that are unwelcome at best and actively harmful at worst. They can create a ton of shame and make people feel like they’re being judged and criticized for not doing the “right” thing (this is a risk even if you do have a good relationship, but it’s a risk that goes WAY up if the person doesn’t even like you, or vice versa).

      So in that situation, posting resources in the breakroom/bathroom is one possible way to get in through the back door. But without the proper relationship in place, approaching a person directly is almost always a bad idea.

      And if you do have such a relationship, and decide to go ahead and speak to them, it’s really important to stress the first part of this post – THEY KNOW THEIR SITUATION BETTER THAN YOU DO, and they know best what is going to keep them safest. You’re there to support in any way you can, regardless of what they decide to do.

      What doesn’t work is to go in thinking that you know what they should do and they don’t. We have an actual rule for the clients we counsel – no giving advice, unless someone asks for it. It’s unlikely you can suggest anything they haven’t already thought about, and even if you do, you still don’t know if it’s right for them in their specific situation.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “What doesn’t work is to go in thinking that you know what they should do and they don’t.”

        Yes. And getting frustrated with them for not leaving, or not acting as quickly as you think they should, or “ignoring” you is going to immediately rule you out as a safe person for them.

        These situations bring on strong emotions for everyone involved, but you need to manage those on your own and not put the DV victim in the position of consoling or reassuring you.

        Well intentioned people can sometimes make things harder without meaning to.

        1. Infrequent Poster*

          Which is hard! In 99% of situations I hear about, the person offering advice/help really is concerned, and genuinely does want to make things better. There’s SO much bad advice out there on this topic, and so many bad TV movies and so forth that a lot of people truly think they can just swoop in and call a hotline, maybe give the person a safe place to stay for a night or two, and all will be well.

          In reality, there are thousands of factors complicating a person’s decision to leave an abuser – especially if they have children with the person (one reason I appreciate this post so much).

          As concerned bystanders, and to some extent even as concerned friends, parents, siblings, or neighbors, there’s only so much we can do in these situations. As a volunteer who’s been doing this for years, there’s very specific outer limits to how much *I* (or anyone I work with) can do for a person in this situation. They have to drive the bus. There’s no other way. That’s going to look different for each individual person, and the decisions they make are life and death sometimes.

          It really sucks, and it’s easy to feel helpless. But I always tell new volunteers, just because we can’t save people doesn’t mean we aren’t doing any good. We’re offering resources that can literally save their lives, and often do. Short of that, we’re offering support that makes them feel seen and heard and validated. You’d be amazed at how often that (and ONLY that) gets people through the night. It might seem like a small thing, but to many survivors it’s everything. It’s often the thing that moves the needle for them, being made to feel like a worthy person who deserves better.

        2. Anon01*

          (Anon for this.) This is really important. I eventually left an emotionally and financially (but not physically) abusive relationship (as in, he treated me badly, prevented me from accessing medical care, and stole from me/undermined our family’s ability to maintain a safe home, but did not hit me).

          As I was sorting out the steps for filing for divorce, I had a friend treat me very dismissively to other friends – I was “always complaining” but never doing anything about it, etc. It was humiliating and really limited my ability to talk about what was happening among that group of people because others agreed with her. Truth is, it can be extremely difficult to get your social, psychological, and financial resources together all at once, and even if you’re ready to end a relationship that doesn’t mean you have a way to keep a roof over your head/your kids’ head without some very careful planning. The reason the abuser isolates you is so you can’t get help. In my situation, without immediate, unquestioning financial help from my parents I would have been in dire straits, and I had a good professional job and am middle-class. And was not raised by misogynists!

          1. ferrina*

            I’m so sorry! Congrats on getting out!!

            One thing people don’t realize is that abusers are dangerous. They don’t care about the normal rules of society, and they’ve already shown you that they don’t have even baseline consideration for your health and safety. If you respond to them in the same way you’d respond to a non-abuser, you may be putting yourself in real danger. You don’t respond to a coyote the same way you respond to a dog. You’re constantly doing a weird dance of “how do I protect myself?” And YES! on the isolation- my abuser would constantly buddy up to my friends so they would align with him more than me or tell me they didn’t want to hear my complaints so they “wouldn’t be in the middle of a friends’ relationship”. Without friends to reinforce that what he was doing was bad, I questioned my reality and felt guilty for complaining. Emotional abuse is really insidious and can be really hard to pinpoint.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Yes, this. And we know that leaving is the most dangerous time, as Alison wrote. Which means that the best plan involves lots of advance planning so that by the time the abuser realizes the relationship is over, the partner is already gone. This means they have to have a place to stay/live, their own bank accounts, all their important legal documents, clothing and toiletries, a safety plan for work, make sure that the abuser can’t access any of their online accounts, make sure that they can’t track your location via GPS devices, phone apps, social media tagging, etc. And they have to figure all this stuff out and get everything ready without the abuser realizing. Of course it takes time to kick yourself free!

            2. American in Ireland*

              One thing I tell people a LOT in conversations like this: abusers groom bystanders, too. They just do “positive” style grooming. They do things that make them look better so no one will believe the things their victim tells them.

              This is a prime example of that behavior.

              1. ferrina*

                Exactly. And things that make their victims look worse. Telling stories but changing details to make the victim look unstable, looking sad about how the victim was “mean” or “unkind” to them, etc. Most abusers I’ve met will tell you how they are the victim.

        3. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Yup, I’ve been trying to support a friend in a bad situation for the past few years. She knows her husband’s behaviour is not okay and she is very open about how intensely she dislikes him, but she is terrified of how he might manipulate the kids and the justice system to get custody if they divorce. It’s really frustrating, because I want her to kick his ass to the curb yesterday, but I know all I can do is wait and listen and collect resources. (Some friends are also keeping copies of texts where she shares abusive behaviour so that there’s a paper trail if she ever needs it too).

    6. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      In the prenatal department of my local hospital there are posters in the ladies toilets, on the inside of the doors, which don’t use terms like DV or DA but just say things like “if your partner controls your access to money / doesn’t let you see your friends” and then tell you how to notify your HCP discreetly. The things mentioned tend to be red flags rather than obvious criminal offences.

      It’s very common for people to say “it’s not abuse, my partner just [description of abuse]” and it does seem that standing back from labels in favour of describing behaviour is more likely to reach people. Frankly it’s also useful to help abusive partners to recognise that their behaviour is abusive. A workplace could have resources with similar “if … then you could speak to [external agencies] in confidence”.

      But that’s possibly not useful for OP in this moment as Carrie may need a different kind of help.

      1. Fuel Injector*

        “posters in the ladies toilets, on the inside of the doors, which don’t use terms like DV or DA but just say things like “if your partner controls your access to money / doesn’t let you see your friends””

        This is good!

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yeah, that’s the wording on the fliers in our church restroom stalls. It lists behaviors not labels.

          1. Fuel Injector*

            Exactly. Putting out a flier with a domestic violence hotline or women’s shelter information is not going to help someone who doesn’t identify their situation as domestic violence.

            1. Anon for this*

              This is such a good idea! I love the idea of describing the behavior instead of labeling the behavior.

              1. anon in affordable housing*

                I would’ve appreciated a summary of signs of psychological abuse (separating partner from their friend group, constant “corrections,” labeling any pushback to his control as “irrational behavior,” and constantly trying to break down boundaries) because I didn’t phrase the question correctly when I brought it up to a therapist.

                Because I led with “I’m worried my bf might not have my best interests in mind…” and not “My bf does XYZ and I’m super uncomfortable when he does those things, but then he starts belittling me and calling me selfish” she **didn’t even ask why I might feel that way** and jumped straight to “You are having irrational thoughts about your boyfriend and need to tell yourself that he loves you and would never hurt you!”

                Well, guess what, he not only hurt me on purpose but he wore out his welcome in our social group by planning a cruel prank. He left soon after the rest of my friend group discovered he was setting up a teenager to be humiliated in public making a romantic love declaration to her college student crush–who did NOT feel the same way about her. Like, what kind of grown-ass adult tries to play mean girls tricks on a teenager so she’ll embarrass herself and her crush in front of their primary social group? One I should not have been dating!

      2. Emma*

        From memory, a place I used to work had similar posters but they did name it. They had a variety of scenarios up, things like “If someone prevents you from taking your regular medication, that’s abuse”. As has been mentioned up thread, I wouldn’t expect anyone to see these and immediately go “oh, it’s abuse!”, but I’d hope it might plant a seed for the future.

    7. Sparkles McFadden*

      A good way is to post information from DV resources on the inside of the bathroom stall doors, especially if it’s a list of abuser behaviors. I have seen lists like this on bathroom stall doors in workplaces and in various restaurants. Somone even hung some up in the changing rooms of a bridal shop (which, honestly, makes so much sense). Just seeing “Are you experiencing these things in your relationship?” might get someone thinking “This isn’t what everyone puts up with?” It’s a way to make information available in a non-confrontational way.

    8. JSPA*

      Name DV! Make a point that everyone could be at risk, but at the same time, everyone could be a helper to others at risk.

      The person you know about can learn about it because they see themselves a helpers. (Many victims are already in a helper role, both de facto and as their own self-image, as they try to repair the damage caused by the violent partner.

      They learn the details because it’s the right thing to do. They know it’s there because it’s there for others.

      Even if they’re averse to leaving, most people have some level of abuse that they do conceptualize as “reason to leave,” when applied to others; they don’t make the leap to see their own situation. But maybe she’ll think about it as it could apply to her friend Bree (whose husband has shot her twice, already, and her jaw is still wired shut).

      Helping the person who is suffering (what to you) is “clear abuse,” and having them challenge you to explain how your own situation is healthy? That can be quite the eye-opener…but even if it all that dialogue happens only inside your own head, it’s still illuminating.

  11. Infrequent Poster*

    I’ve been a volunteer at my local nonprofit supporting sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors for many years now. If by any chance you have such a person at your own organization, please encourage your employee to reach out to that person directly (I wouldn’t do so without their permission, unless you are only asking for advice for yourself and/or your workplace safety planning as described in the post).

    Reason being, a local volunteer will also know more about local resources. Alison’s advice is spot on for the general situation, but a local volunteer can connect a person with specific ways they can get help in their area – pet fostering, temporary shelter options, childcare, legal aid, and so forth.

    Alison, thanks for a great post – it’s so common to hear bad advice being offered in this situation, but I literally have nothing to add to the experts you consulted, except for what I just wrote.

    1. HugeTractsofLand*

      +1 for the great advice, a local resource might be even more helpful. If LW’s company doesn’t have a local volunteer, the national hotline may be able to pinpoint some good local resources.

    2. Quinalla*

      Thank you for this, I have already sent the link Alison shared to my company to try and see what we can incorporate, I will also look up local resources as well. Great idea!

  12. Too many birds*

    I’m so fucking sick of men like this and the way our society enables them. I didn’t think there was anything about domestic abuse that was new to me, but learning that abusers are MORE likely to get custody of children? That stopped me cold.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      It scares me, too. Probably because they are better liars and at hiding their dark sides.

      A good parent would admit to making mistakes, etc. A bad one might not.

      1. Jax*

        Abusers also really good at needling and creating scenarios where the other person lashes out out of frustration/being worn down and then using it against them in court.

        1. Yoyoyo*

          Yup, a big part of the abuser’s job is to make the other person look bad/mean/”crazy.” It’s infuriating.

          1. Abusers Unwelcome*

            Here’s me giving the serious side-eye to my former best friend, always telling me in private how I was broken and no one actually cared about me in the “true way” he did, they just wanted to get me in bed.* Then if I got upset and snapped back at him to defend myself or my other friends, he’d tell everyone publicly how I was “crazy” and “jealous” of his relationship with his then-girlfriend–now wife, unfortunately for her. I’m aro-ace.

            I’m still furious at how many people saw the way he treated others and still sided with his self-described “Logical Virgo Man” ass because “Women always gotta be crazy emotional jealous bitches, amirite? Especially those Cancer women.” (He was big into astrology. I am not.)

            *Spoiler alert: he never came out and admitted it, but it was 1000% obvious to everyone (except me, for many years) that he wanted to get me in bed.

        2. kiki*

          Yes, that’s why a lot of DV experts were concerned by the term “mutual abuse.” It *can* happen, but it’s rare. A lot of the time what is being observed is that one individual is consistently instigating abuse and another partner is reacting in ways that are understandable when you consider the abuse they’re suffering. When observers don’t see the whole picture, it’s easy to say, “Wow, out of nowhere she was really rude to him at that party!” but really he had been really horrendous to her all day.

          1. jasmine*

            There’s no such thing as mutual abuse. An abusive relationship is a relationship with an imbalanced power dynamic, by definition.

            Two people can be toxic to one another but that wouldn’t be an abusive relationship.

            1. JSPA*

              Kind of splitting hairs, here…in that each of the people in a toxic relationship, if they’re both circling the flame of “believing in the inevitability of us,” is more likely to exit by seeing themselves as abused (rather than as mutually toxic).

              Certainly if they’re both at the level of lasting damage, and not merely at, “we were passionate, but so bad for each other.”

              It’s darn hard to wake up and think, “hey, I’m toxic! And this person I love to the point of courting mutual destruction, they’re toxic! So we should just shake hands and separate, QED.”

              Or to put it another way, a relationship that’s mutually toxic can turn out to hide one that’s plain old abusive, when one partner does try to leave, and the other one prevents it. (Not that we can completely know if it would have been abusive in the other direction, if partner #2 had instead tried to leave first. Except when they take turns in those roles, and we’re back to “toxic.”)

            2. Well...*

              I guess you’re using a non-colloquial definition of the phrase. There are some actions that don’t require a power imbalance to be abusive (nonconsensual hitting, for example). To many people, any relationship that involved repetitive abusive actions would be called an abusive relationship, even without a power imbalance.

              1. jasmine*

                Nonconsensual hitting is not something that happens outside of an abusive relationship. Repetitive abusive actions are not a thing that happen accidentally.

                These kinds of misconceptions are why I’m so glad Alison brought in people who have expertise in this area.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I would guess it’s hard for the abusee to stop second-guessing themselves and appeasing the abuser, too, so the abuser seems convincing and the abusee seems wishy-washy.

      3. 2023, You are NOT Nice.*

        My father was a great guy, fun to be around, very pleasant, lots of people who liked him. At work. At home, not so much. There was some abuse – not of me, as the youngest I didn’t really get that side of him – but there would have been a lot more if he had been more energetic, let us say. I could totally see him going through a court custody case just to be a total ***. Probably would have been believed by most too.

      4. Fluffy Fish*

        I would actually imagine mostly its down to finances. Abusers tend to leave their partners with limited resources.

        If you can’t afford a good lawyer, or child care, or food it’s very easy for the abusive parent to look like the more stable option.

        1. Emma*

          It’s also about the long-term physical and mental health problems that many survivors experience as a result of the abuse. And abusers will lean *hard* on this, and bring up any moment of vulnerability to make themselves look like the responsible, stable parent.

          And then just to rub salt in the wound… They usually don’t give a shit about the kid(s), are consistently late or flaky when it’s their turn to pick up, don’t put any genuine time or energy into building a relationship with their own kids or nurturing then – the only reason they wanted custody, ime, was to get one over on their ex.

          1. anon in affordable housing*

            This happened to a former friend of mine, although she was also making enough classic custody case blunders it wasn’t that hard for him to look better in court.

            And by “blunders” I mean things like walking straight into “parental alienation” claims by venting about her ex in front of their toddler. Her toddler who cheerfully repeated what mommy said about daddy when the nice lady at the courthouse asked if mommy ever said anything bad about daddy… wow, her lawyer chewed her out over that and she kept insisting “no, you told me it was OK to talk about him to my friends because she isn’t listening if she’s not making eye contact with me.” Gaslighting your own lawyer is not a good idea.

    2. Former Hominid*

      There is a persistent myth that family courts favor mothers, and zooming out and just looking at the numbers seems to support that- but the twist is that most fathers in divorce/custody proceedings don’t fight for full or partial custody. So by default mothers get more custody. However in cases where dad’s fight for custody, full or partial, they tend to win it, even if they’re abusive. In fact abusive fathers often WANT to get custody, if only so they can force their target to interact with them more post divorce. It’s a form of re-victimization. This myth hurts everyone, because it means lots of otherwise good fathers wont fight for custody so hard because they think that it’s a lost cause- “courts favor the mother so why should I try?” essentially, when if they just show up and ask they’re very likely to get it- and it hurts women because they might think “he hit me and that’s why I got a divorce, I don’t have to fight so hard to get full custody it’s obvious” and not prepare enough of an iron clad case and then he’ll ask and boom 50/50 and her torment gets extended until her youngest is 18.

      1. jasmine*

        I’ve heard this before but does anyone have a source? I had trouble tracking down a reliable study or article.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Hmm, I can’t find one either. I did find that in the overwhelming majority of cases, child custody is decided outside the court, but I couldn’t find anything about the remaining cases.

      2. Well...*

        IDK, my evidence is just anecdotal, but my dad fought pretty hard for 50% and got 40%. Both my parents openly admit that there is no difference between them except gender (my mom thinks that as a mom, she should have custody, my dad was more salty).

        My mom fought back not because my dad was a bad parent, but because she wanted us to have one home base that was slightly favored, whereas my dad fought because he wanted a fair split. Both sides were understandable IMO, though I think my mom was right about the one home base theory (I disagree with her gender essentialism though).

    3. kiki*

      I have seen this twice, where the abusive partner ended up getting full custody of the kids. In those cases, it was because the abusive partner was ready and willing to twist normal situations to make their partner seem unfit. Most parents, even in a messy divorce, understand that custody is about what’s best for the kids, which generally means both parents should have some time with them. But in abusive situations, it’s not really about the kids at all– it’s about having power over their victim and taking something away from them.

      So the abusive partner will make really normal things most people struggle with into a huge ordeal that means their victim should not be trusted as a parent. If the parent occasionally smoked marijuana, all of a sudden they’re an addict who is unfit to parent. If the victim struggled with depression, that could be blown into a reason they are unfit to parent. Sometimes even, the abuser uses the effects of their abusive behavior as reasons their partner would be unfit. It’s really dark. So the abuser might keep the victim up all night screaming at them. Then, the victim is severely fatigued and gets into a fender bender on their way to work– the abuser will then say how irresponsible the victim is and that they can’t be trusted with a baby in the car. When in reality, the accident would not have happened if the abuser were not being abusive. Or the victim will have an “outburst” at a public place and seem like they’re irrational or overly emotional, but the abuser, of course, does not mention that they had been gaslighting and berating the victim all day leading up to the event. It’s just really scary to see.

      1. OldWounds*

        Yes to this. My relative wanted to leave her husband because of the way he treated her, but he prevented it by threatening to sue for full custody of their kids and told her he’d get it because she’d previously been treated for depression. She was a stay at home mum without her own income, but it was really the threat of having her children taken away that made her stay.

    4. onetimethishappened*

      Abusers are master manipulators. Many years and many jobs ago I went out with some co-workers and their spouses. One co-worker had mentioned she was unhappy at home, but never really eluded to her spouse being abusive. When we met him, he was funny, sweet, and very charismatic. In no way would I have guessed he was abusive. Turns out he was. I felt awful for not seeing it, but they can put on a great front so no one realizes what nightmares they actually are.

      1. ferrina*

        My father is a joy and a delight for a few hours. When you live with him, he’s a terror.

    5. Random Bystander*

      Part of it is that it is really hard to get the court to understand that a man who is abusive to his wife is really not ok to be around his children either (“yeah, that’s how he treats her, but it’s not like he’s harming the children”). In my case (which involved criminal charges), even though the children’s guardian ad litem actually *was* advocating for no contact (very unusual), the judge *still* ordered supervised visitation. The one thing that I held as a comfort was the knowledge that he wouldn’t comply with what was needed to achieve a visit. (There was one occasion where I did all the arranging, which wasn’t required, down to the point where all he had to do was choose Day A, time X or Day B, time Y …I was even going to pay the fees for him … and he still managed to screw it up, and the woman who would have supervised told him she was terminating the visit before it even started … she had 20+ years in supervising visitation and that was part of why I had chosen to try working with her). I printed and shared (and kept one) copies of the email chain to give to anyone who said “you’re being too hard on him”.

      The other reason that abusers are more likely to end up with the children is financial. If they’ve cut the mother off from work-for-pay or limiting options to very low-paying, she is not going to be as easily able to afford a good attorney (my parents paid for mine), as well as if the abuser is able to work at a well-paying job, he’s going to look on-paper as the better provider. Child support is an absolute joke (if he had paid, which he never did, I would have gotten $131 per week to support 4 children).

      1. Ellie*

        I know one poor woman who’s ex was abusive, who was granted supervised visits with their children, where she had to do the supervising. Fortunately he was a drug addict who couldn’t even turn up on the right day. I don’t understand how that got approved though.

    6. Punk*

      They make the abuse accusation seem like a lie. “She’s only saying I’m abusive so she’ll get custody” and then she’s made to seem like she’s lying in court.

    7. Fuel Injector*

      In general, when men request custody, they get it, in the US, anyway. Unfortunately, most male abusers make more money than their wives and can make a case for providing a better home environment. Also, some spousal abusers don’t abuse the kids, which for some reason gives them some sort of pass in the eyes of society. Put all this together with the gendered pattern of DV, and yeah, abusers tend to get custody of children.

      1. Well...*

        Is this recent? because this was not my experience as a kid. My dad made more money and wanted custody, fought really hard for it, and got 40% rather than 50%. My mom was a SAHM who went back to work during the divorce and won custody, child support, everything. They both openly admit the court sided with my mom because of her gender (my mom thinks that’s how it should be, my dad disagrees). They were both great parents, so no abuse story here, but the conventional wisdom that courts favor moms tracks my personal experience and that of all my friends growing up who were going through their parents’ divorce.

    8. Spicy Tuna*

      Yes, and it works both ways. A guy friend of mine filed for divorce from his horribly manipulative and abusive wife and nearly didn’t get custody of their son. He only prevailed because a) his parents gave him the funds to fight tooth and nail and b) her crazy eventually surfaced and her attorney quit.

    9. goddessoftransitory*

      It’s exactly how they control their victim; knowing their kids would spend MORE time, alone, with the abuser keeps many people trapped in DV situations for years. Then, when the kids get old enough to move out (or fight back, tragically often a necessity) the victim may be in more danger because the abuser has lost that stick.

    10. Ellie*

      Oh yes, unfortunately that’s a big topic in Australia, since the default position became 50/50 custody back in the 80s. Abusers often appear more stable, and financially stable, and can afford things like private education. We also have a delightful thing here where one parent can get more custody if the other parent appears to be interfering with their visitation rights. Reporting abuse, unless its proven, can be considered interfering with visitation rights. Its a terrible way to treat victims, and sets the children up for future abuse as well. There have been a few high-profile cases here where children have died due to these laws. Nothing appears to have changed though.

      There has been a conscious effort to increase awareness of coercive control though, which is at least something.

  13. Elliot*

    Great advice – however, can you consider adding a content warning to triggering and detailed accounts of domestic violence, since so many of us read this at work and so many people are survivors of domestic violence?

    1. Starscourge Savvy*

      I was going to suggest the same earlier, but I came back to others suggesting it and it being done! Thanks Alison and the folks who brought this up, it’s very kind and helpful for me (and others I assume)!

  14. what the nope*

    A former coworker was/is in an abusive relationship and my workplace had to involve the police and perform a ‘security intervention’ to trespass the dude. He did not like my involvement in the situation and located my car and smashed out the back window.

    I ended up cutting contact with the coworker when she left the job since she was sharing information with him that put me in danger.

    Sad and frustrating.

    1. Infrequent Poster*

      I’m really sorry that happened to you, and want to thank you for sharing because it’s a really important example of how bystander intervention can be dangerous. Well-meaning bystanders CAN AND DO get hurt in the course of trying to help survivors. It happens far too often.

      That’s why the professional resources are best – organizations like mine know how to assist people leaving their situations without putting their personal safety at risk. That’s not something anyone should feel compelled to do.

      I recognize that there are situations when sometimes people DO feel compelled to put their personal safety at risk – when the risk is worth it because situation is so extreme and/or the person in question is that important to them, and I wouldn’t presume to know where that line is for anyone else. I will say, however, that it usually doesn’t do any good to put yourself in harm’s way. It can escalate the situation intensely, and get extremely dangerous VERY quickly – for the person in the abusive relationship and their children (if applicable) as well as for you.

      It’s not a decision I’d encourage anyone to make lightly.

    2. CityMouse*

      A guy I knew at work was murdered when he attempted to protect a woman who was being hit by her boyfriend in a parking lot. Just one punch, the guy hit his head on the curb and he was gone.

      So based on my very sad experience you absolutely don’t want coworkers interacting with this guy.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Yes, and I’m glad that Alison talked about this, because I feel like it often gets left out of the conversation.

      If I have a coworker who is in an abusive relationship, I and my coworkers are also potentially in danger. Many instances of workplace violence are committed by abusive partners of employees.

      1. Emily*

        I agree, I am really glad this was brought up as well. While the co-worker with the abusive husband is in the most danger, everyone who works there is in danger as well. OP, I hope you are able to implement the advice that was given.

  15. Bee*

    I remember sharing “quirky” stories about my marriage and in-laws and being surprised at the horrified expressions of my peers. It still took longer than I care to admit to leave because he wasn’t hitting me (there was all sorts of other abuses, just never a literal punch!). The weirdest thing in hindsight was that I felt like I needed someone else’s permission to leave because I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t trust my own judgment after a decade of abuse and a strong religious upbringing that framed divorce as “against God’s plan” and “a sign of selfishness and unwillingness to sacrifice for one’s partner.”

    It has taken a lot of therapy, but I am now healthier than I was before I even met him. I’m sure it was frustrating for my coworkers to see me try to minimize what I was living with and stay by his side, but that steady stream of “Are you okay?”, “That sounds awful,” “I couldn’t stand to be treated like that,” etc. really helped shake my foundations. The comment that haunted me all the way to the lawyer’s office was “How would you feel if your daughter was treated like that?”

    1. MI Dawn*

      Yeah, I can related. For me, the shock came when my parents, after a little disagreement with my ex about which direction the back door on our house faced, said “we’ve never heard you disagree with ex before!” That (we’d been married nearly 20 years at that point, and I realized I ALWAYS forced myself to agree with him, to prevent a lot of passive aggressive snarks), along with a few other statements, started waking me up and planning my divorce.

    2. TyphoidMary*

      “I felt like I needed someone else’s permission to leave because I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t trust my own judgment”

      This is one of the goals of the abuser!

      I’m so glad you got out and got support. <3

    3. ferrina*

      Yes! I finally left because I didn’t want my young kids to grow up thinking this was a normal relationship. He was emotionally abusive and manipulative, but never hit me. He liked to say that his horrible comments and gaslighting were things that “I didn’t mean it that way” or “I’m just anxious” or “your upbringing was messed up so you don’t know, but what I’m doing is normal” or even “I didn’t do that!” (lying about things that happened just a few seconds ago). My own parents had had a horrible relationship, and while I was doing better than them, I realized that I didn’t want my kids to think that this was an okay way to be treated. I needed to model what I wanted for them.

    4. kiki*

      I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t trust my own judgment

      I think this is something that people who have never been in abusive situations or close to them don’t really understand. There’s often a slow and steady brainwashing of abuse victims. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship during the pandemic. I am a smart, strong woman with a lot of people to turn to for support and more resources than most people probably have in this type of situation. I still stayed in that relationship and even went back to it once after a break-up. It was because I had spent a solid year quarantined every day with somebody who told me how silly and worthless I was. He second-guessed everything I did, even minor things that had no bearing on him. If you had talked to me during that time, I would have told you that I deserved to be kicked out of our apartment (that I was the lease-holder of) at 7am on a workday morning because when my alarm went off, I took more than 10 seconds to successfully turn it off.

      1. Tired*

        This sounds unfortunately a bit familiar. My partner tends to try and kick me out every time we have a quarrel about something that can be just that damned trivial as your alarm clock. They do pay more because of reasons, but it still isn’t fun to hear that I don’t have the right to stay in my own home because some stupid thing. I am used to it and it usually blows over after a while, but the pattern of every disagreement being a huge deal does make me tired. And prone to keeping the peace at all costs. I do see it’s not healthy.

        1. Emma*

          I’m glad you can see that it’s unhealthy – a big part of being in a successful relationship is choosing to be kind to the other person, but that only works if it goes both ways.

          I hope your situation improves x

        2. kiki*

          I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through something similar to what I did. No matter what you’re paying, somebody who cares for you would never want to make you feel as if your home situation is tenuous or subject to their whims.

        3. JSPA*

          Can you find a way to get away for a few days of rest–a weekend visit to a low-energy friend, who will be fine if the visit is just chatting, strolling, eating and sleeping–so that you can look at the situation without everpresent stress and exhaustion?

          It’s one thing to feel unwelcome due to getting the cold shoulder, but quite another to have someone literally try to displace you from your house and home. (Or to put it another way, if you’re not allowed to feel secure in it, as your house and home…is it even functioning as house and home?)

          At minimum, respectful argument should not incorporate threats that cut to the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That list starts with, “air, water, food, shelter, sleep…”

        4. I&I*

          Yeah, you don’t deserve that, and they aren’t the boss of what you have the right to. It sounds really hard and unfair. xxx

    5. Bowserkitty*

      The comment that haunted me all the way to the lawyer’s office was “How would you feel if your daughter was treated like that?”

      I said this to my own mother trying to get her to see that the way her husband treats her isn’t right. She silently agreed with me. They’re also still together. But…the thought remains in her head, so baby steps.

  16. Daisy*

    Just wanted to re-iterate the point that you can call a domestic violence hotline or your local domestic violence shelter for *advice about someone you know.* You do not need to personally be experiencing the emergency! Same goes for suicide hotlines, etc.

    (I have done so, and boy was it helpful, and necessary.)

    1. Over It*

      Yes, I was going to say the same thing! If you have specific scenarios that you don’t feel are covered in the resources given, definitely reach out to directly speak to a trained hotline call taker. You can do this without sharing your identity or the identity of anyone involved/your workplace. Same goes for suicide or any other hotlines–you don’t have to be the person in crisis to call; you can always to ask for advice on how to help someone you’re worried about. I’ve done this before too, and it was really helpful to have a conversation with a live human and work through all the nuances (and emotions) that you can’t get from a resource sheet.

    2. ADidgeridooForYou*

      Yup! I used to volunteer at a DV shelter manning the hotline, and a decent chunk of our calls were from people who were concerned about friends in abusive situations. Sometimes they just wanted to be pointed in the right direction, sometimes they wanted scripts they could use, and sometimes they just wanted a gut check on whether what they were witnessing was abuse or not (since society tends to dismiss emotional manipulation as abuse and only intervenes when things become physical).

  17. Poison I.V. drip*

    This guy sounds like a ticking bomb. Given that many mass shootings start with or have some element of domestic abuse, even banning him from the premises has the potential to make things tougher not just for her, but everyone.

    1. Francie Foxglove*

      But doesn’t the employer have a right to ban anyone who makes a scene, or engages in dangerous behavior?

      1. lucanus cervus*

        Of course, but having the right to do something doesn’t make you immune from negative outcomes. I genuinely don’t know what the outcome might be, but it’s worth OP seeking guidance before taking action.

  18. e.y.w.*

    I really love the advice to let employees know they can gently say “That’s not normal” or “I’m concerned about the way he treats you.” A dear friend of mine was in a very abusive relationship for years, partly because her parents continually told her that “marriage is forever, period,” and allowed the abuser at their gatherings – despite deeply concerning interactions right in front of the family. If even one person would have stepped up to say “This isn’t normal!” she would have been free much sooner.
    I’m so sorry for this situation, OP, and I think it’s wonderful and brave that you’re looking to help Carrie in the most sensitive way possible.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      That’s really good advice. My cousin would show up at a family member’s house with a black eye or other bruises, and she’d get a lecture on how she’d already been divorced once, and did she want to fail in this marriage too?? So having someone, even if they’re not close to the person, being able to say “wow, that’s not very nice” or “oh, he thinks it’s a joke? I mean, do you find it funny?” or something can really be a helpful seed of doubt to plant. Making sure everyone at work knows about resources (even just reiterating that the EAP exisits) can also be really useful.

      1. ferrina*

        Oh that’s horrible! How do you “fail” a marriage when the other person is abusive?

        My ex treated me worse and worse until I felt like I had no choice to divorce. He wanted me to initiate the divorce so he could gain sympathy about how I left him. But divorce didn’t end the marriage; it just verbalized what had already happened. I didn’t kill my marriage; I just called time of death.

        1. kiki*

          Unfortunately, some people still have internalized that the victim should be able to be such a good partner/parent/housekeeper/cook/provider/etc, that the abuser simply would not ever consider abusing them. This is, clearly, not possible, but a lot of people really do struggle to understand that abusers are abusers. It’s not something a victim can prevent– only the abuser can decide not to be abusive.

      2. e.y.w.*

        Oh, that is so awful. I will never understand how family can endorse abuse on one of their own. It goes to show how complicated this can be.
        Totally agree that even just a seed of doubt can be enough to help a victim see what’s happening.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Unfortunately many families have had this treatment normalized for generations–when they see it happening to their kids it’s no more unusual to them then a discussion about fixing the car or other everyday matter.

  19. DV Educator*

    Thank you for taking such a thorough look into this situation, Alison. I’m a longtime reader who manages the community outreach department at a domestic violence shelter, and I frequently get questions from people who are wondering what, exactly, their workplace can do to support colleagues who might be being abused. The standard-issue HR trainings are important for understanding policy, but so often the personal details are left out- how to name the abuse to the victimized employee and how to discuss the situation with others in the building are things that are missing from even my (domestic violence-related!) organization’s mandatory employee trainings!
    I’m really grateful to you for sharing these concrete, actionable steps- and discussing ALL the different stages/aspects of this situation! I’m planning to share this with my team to use as a guide for future discussions we have with survivors and their concerned colleagues/employers.

  20. Yvette*

    I can’t be the only one bothered by this “met her now husband, Bob, when she was 15 and he was in his mid-twenties.” Isn’t that classic abuser behavior? Get them young and groom them? And what normal man in his mid-twenties seeks a relationship with a teenage girl?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      You’re not, but I think OP knows that and that’s why it’s included. It’s context to let us know how deep his hold on the woman might go and how difficult this might be to approach her about.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        And also how deep in her religion she may be. If her family was actively encouraging her relationship with a man a decade older while she was in her teens, that speaks to the support system she may not have at home. That’s an important thing to keep in mind.

        1. SleeplessKJ*

          It also speaks to a probable expectation of “submission” to the husband.

        2. e.y.w.*

          Absolutely a vital point to keep in mind. A dear friend of mine left her abusive ex-husband after years of her family insisting that she should treat the “father of her children” with respect, even after she was admitted to a hospital *twice* from him attacking her. It seriously warped her mind that her own family saw nothing wrong with the abuse, other than to shake their heads and say “you should work on that.”
          So important to keep this in mind when dealing with these deeply sensitive situations.

    2. RT*

      Hard agree. I’m a teacher and envisioned one of my sophomores just “hanging out” with a 25-year-old and shuddered all over.

      1. Flowers*

        I think about my daughter possibly hanging out with someone in that same situation and it fills me with rage. Then I calm down because 1) she’s only 2 years old and 2) the best I can do is make it so that she won’t desire the attention of pathetic F-boys….i.e. build her self esteem and self respect. ask me how I came to that solution……

    3. Mel*

      Not at all, I thought that was creepy as hell too. I don’t know if it would be helpful for anyone to bring it up with the employee right away, as creepy as it is I think the way that relationship started is the least of her problems right now, but I really hope that somebody eventually discusses grooming with that employee and assures her it’s not her fault that she was targeted by a predator when she was a child.

    4. Abusers Unwelcome*

      CW: child abuse, statutory rape, domestic abuse

      I shuddered physically when I read that. My cousin (the abuse in my family has long-reaching roots) was impregnated by a much older man from her church, and ultimately ended up marrying him “for the baby.” She was about 13, he was in his thirties. She stayed with him for years and had two kids by him. He treated her very similarly to how Bob treats Carrie.

      She’d been kept “away from the sinful world” first by her parents, then him, but she was finally growing up and growing wise to his abuser bullshit when he announced he was divorcing her. Why? Because she “hadn’t aged well,” according to him. She wasn’t even 30 yet. He was nearly 50 by that point and was of course already sleeping with another teenager from the same church. Said church was completely useless while all this was going on, naturally. Never even kicked the guy out or so much as reprimanded him or did anything at all to protect those poor girls.

      Dexter, you worthless child molester, I hope you burn in whatever hell is the worst in your religion.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh god. Reminds me of “My Dark Vanessa” (HUGE CW here: sexual abuse and grooming of a minor by her male teacher) which taught me so much about how grooming can mess with the mind of the person being groomed and it made me SO ANGRY. And it was a work of fiction. Hearing about real life grooming makes me about a million times more angry. I’m so sorry to your cousin and I also hopes Dexter burns in hell for eternity.

    5. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Nope, I immediately went queasy. Because ew.

      Back in retail hellscape in my teens, we were all pretty lucky that our LP team (who were all 10-15 years older than us teenagers) treated us as “younger siblings” if we came across them socially in our small town. We were always treated well and kindly. I ran across one much later in life, and treating the young girls as they should be but also as a very platonic thing was a conscious decision on the part of that team. Because man, that whole situation could’ve indeed gone a different direction as we saw happen in a couple other places in our small town.

    6. Fuel Injector*

      Yep. But the teenagers don’t always recognize this, even well into adulthood. They think they are mature for their age. I have a friend who meets the profile for a teenager who is vulnerable to older, predatory men. Even in her late 40s, she glosses over that profile and believes those men were interested in her bc she was not like other girls.

    7. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      That jumped right out at me, too, and yes, it is VERY creepy.

  21. Falling Diphthong*

    Past advice here from a victim of domestic violence, Marie, which really resonated with me:

    Don’t normalize it. When you’re invited to conclude post anecdote “…. but ha ha they all do that, right?” you calmly state that no, that has not been your experience at all. You don’t do this, your spouse never does this. It’s extremely unusual. Not normal at all.

    Humans are very adaptable to whatever we think the social norm is. Don’t nod along and agree that this behavior is a norm. That can help someone see that it is not, in fact, the norm.

    Avoid telling them what to do–“Don’t do what he tells you; do what I tell you” is not the way to change the dynamic.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Oh dear god, I’d forgotten about that one. I also hope Fergus was fired. What an awful excuse for a human being.

  22. Reality Check*

    I’m glad Micaela pointed out that during and after the separation is the most dangerous for the victim. I wish the “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” crowd would understand this. And there are likely to be some at OPs workplace, given how prevalent this attitude is. If possible, OP, I would impress this point on people (I realize you may not be able to due to privacy concerns)

    1. SleeplessKJ*

      It’s also difficult when the victim comes from a very religious background as Carrie does and may believe that she can’t break her vows – or that she has a duty to be submissive – or that this is just “gods plan”.

      1. On Fire*

        Like the wife of a (former) reality TV personality who was exposed for adultery and is currently imprisoned for possessing CSA material.

    2. ferrina*

      It’s also very, very common for the leaving to take several tries. You get out, but then you miss him, or he apologizes and sounds sincere and changes for a few weeks, or you’re more scared of life without him than life with him (which is at least a known quantity), or any number of reasons.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Yes! I think on average it’s something like seven tries, so think about how many people are experiencing this who try to leave *more* than seven times in order for seven to be the average. It’s not uncommon for those around the abused person to write it off as a lost cause (“she goes back to him every time, so I can’t deal with her drama anymore”) as opposed to a well known part of domestic violence that means you should stay extra aware of their situation.

      2. Random Bystander*

        Exactly, if you know the whole “frog in a boiling pot” analogy, when you scoop that frog out of the pot of hot water and put that frog on the cold, dry counter–it doesn’t feel safe, it feels strange and scary. It takes some time and reflection before looking at that boiling water and thinking “no way, not going back in there, are you crazy?”

        I got out on attempt #2, but then there were also criminal charges filed against him (regarding a different victim) that helped make it stick.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        Not to mention the high probability of your entire community (friends, church, parents) telling you how sinful and ungrateful you are to have left.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I used to be in the “Why doesn’t she just leave?” camp when I was a kid with regards to Cinderella. I couldn’t understand why Cinderella let her stepmother treat her the way she did. Now, with a few more decades under my belt and a lot more reading up on how abuse can really affect survivors, I have a TON more sympathy for poor Cinderella.

  23. JustMe*

    I used to work for a post-secondary institution where many students were seeking to separate from abusive partners. When students were enrolling, we would tell all students at the beginning that they were welcome to speak to us privately if they had any personal/safety concerns they wanted to disclose, and if/when a student disclosed that something was happening (which sometimes was even, “My ex is outside the building and refuses to leave.”) we had a plan in place to connect them with resources and even a drill among staff for when an unreasonable partner or ex partner showed up or called trying to find a student. (For example, the admin building used to be a bank and one of the offices had once been a vault, so students in this situation were told that, if necessary, all they had to do was give a code word to a staff member, alerting them that there was a safety issue, and then go into the office that had once been a vault and lock the door.) And, yes, members of our staff used some of the same accommodations as well.

    I think it’s a good idea for all employers to have a protocol in place for if something like this happens, to make all staff aware of what to do if a colleague is imminently in trouble or in distress (even something as simple as not disclosing whether or not someone is in the office if someone calls for them, or having a set safe place where they can sit if something happens), and to let staff know that they are welcome to communicate privately with their employer if they are concerned about an abusive situation.

  24. hiptobesquare*

    Adding another recommendation – “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bandcroft. It helped me a great deal (a friend in a similar boat suggested it) and I have purchased it for way way too many people.

    1. SJ*

      seconding this terrific book. in addition to being thorough and well-researched, the tone is very gentle, empathetic and trusting of the victim to know best what they need.

      “when dad hurts mom” by the same author is a great companion piece as well

    2. Bee*

      YES! This book was so eye-opening for me, even though I couldn’t have brought myself to read it before I was genuinely ready to get out. I have a copy that I marked extensively in during the divorce proceedings and subsequent therapy and another copy to lend to others.

      1. Down with DV*

        I was hoping to see this recommendation, was going to post it if no one else did, it should be required reading. It’s the best, disproves a lot of domestic violence myths. Abusers know what they are doing, consider their victims property, and can stop if they want to. It takes seven tries on average for an abused woman to successfully leave. Leaving is the most dangerous time, so patience and support for victims is a must.

        Note that this book can be accessed open source, no cost. The author worker with abusers for many years and really knows what he is talking about.

        It’s hard standing by when you are certain someone is being abused, but if they are an adult,the ability to intervene is limited unless you witness an assault. In the workplace, I’m concerned about violence since guns are so easily available. Safety protocols should be in place for the victim and their coworkers.

    3. Percysowner*

      Saved my sanity. I didn’t really know that emotional abuse was a thing. I mean I was over sensitive and deserved all the criticism. The book opened my eyes.

  25. Chrissssss*

    I want to point out at a book written to help victims of domestic violence: “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, by Lundy Bancroft.

    Maybe it’s something you want to offer as a ressource.

    1. Down with DV*

      See above comment. This book is good for EVERY WOMAN. It can help identify early signs of dangerous men.

      1. Chrisssss*

        I swear that when I started writing my answer, hiptobesquare’s wasn’t there yet ^^’

  26. SleeplessKJ*

    LW mentions that Carrie comes from a very religious background. In addition to doing a very slow roll with all of this, be aware that she may have accepted this behavior as “part of Gods plan for her;” or that she has a duty to be submissive or at the very least that “she made a vow” and can’t leave her marriage. These are all of the things I’ve heard when expressing concern to a friend in a similar situation. Hopefully you can create a safe place for Carrie, but tread lightly and be aware that you may have to choose what’s best for the workplace as a whole at some point.

    1. Flowers*

      and the meeting him at 15/25. I’m not against age gaps per se but that combined with everything else we’re reading = red flags all around. it’s a terrible terrible situation.

      idk it’s easy to say throw him into the woodchipper.

      1. kiki*

        Age gaps between grown adults are one thing, but between adults and teens? No. The life stages are too different and forms too steep of a power differential– one that likely won’t go away even as the younger person gets older.

  27. Oh no he dint*

    Even in situations where it isn’t overt abuse (just getting more and more used to normalizing controlling behavior), it’s helpful to hear, “oh, I never would put up with that.” Ask me how I know…

  28. BradC*

    I’m not sure how this figures into the advice for the manager who is asking the question, but there is so much that could go wrong with the “scaring her with the car” situation, even unintentionally; what happens when the pavement is slightly slicker than normal? Or when the brakes are slightly less responsive?

    1. OldWounds*

      For years I thought that it was normal for men to drive dangerously when they were angry, and then get offended when you get scared (even though it’s what they wanted in the first place) because then you are “questioning their ability to not have an accident.”
      Funnily enough it was reading a romance novel that made me realize how out of whack my standards were because I was like “oh my gosh, she made a mistake and he didn’t even yell at her! What a wonderful guy, wish I could find someone like that.” And then I thought that maybe men are supposed to not yell at you all the time and it was like a light went on.

  29. glitter writer*

    I just want to say thanks for this and other posts relating to employees who are dealing with DV situations; there’s a lot of compassion and actionable advice here that will unfortunately be really useful to a lot of people.

  30. Zarniwoop*

    “ in winter, when temps are often -35) and when he arrives, he will accelerate his car in the very small parking lot, nearly hitting her. He always slams on the brakes or swerves”
    -35 (C or F? Either way yikes) implies possibility of ice making this even more dangerous. If that happened in my employer’s lot it would be caught on camera, and it would be shut down hard because of our own liability. How that might affect her wouldn’t prevent us saying “do that again in our lot and you’re banned from our property.”

    1. AthenaC*

      Since -40C and -40F are the same temperature, -35C and -35F aren’t that far apart temperature-wise. Still pretty darn cold!

    2. I edit everything*

      Is it possible for Carrie to wait just inside the door? Out of the cold and out of harm’s way.

    3. I have RBF*

      Posting a 5 MPH in the parking lot might help them have obvious standing to address it, too.

      1. Shieldmaiden793*

        That was my thought as well. I was wondering if the workplace talking to the husband about unsafe driving practices in their parking lot would likely incite a reaction against their employee, or would check the man’s sense of entitlement to do whatever he wanted.

        No, my man, you can’t floor it in a 10 mph zone. Please park on the street going forward.

        I’m afraid I know the answer, though.

  31. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I may have missed it in the expert replies, but is it helpful for LW to document incidents involving Bob so that there’s a paper trail? e.g. “September 23, 2022 – Fergus and Sansa witnessed Bob accelerating his car directly at Carrie while she waited in the parking lot against a wall, stopping a few feet from her after slamming on the breaks.”

    I don’t know if this is an overreach or something that would be useful to, say, Carrie’s lawyer if she ever needed one in the future.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think it’s an overreach. I would keep a log of anything questionable like this someone was doing on company property, particularly if I thought I might have to ban them at some point.

      1. anon in affordable housing*

        And make sure to save the pertinent security video RIGHT THEN before it gets overwritten.

    2. kiki*

      I think that’s a really great callout. If Carrie makes moves to leave, having reports of Bob’s abusive behavior from a third party will be really valuable. I think that’s something a lot of victims struggle with when they leave– do they have evidence of abuse? And if they do have evidence, will it be disbelieved because they’re the only witness. Having other folks who can say, “Oh, I saw Bob terrorizing Carrie,” is helpful. And if child support is an issue, having record that Bob’s leaving Carrie waiting for him in dangerous conditions frequently may help ensure Carrie is given the custody she deserves.

    3. Fuel Injector*

      Depends on the intent and what you do with the information. If the intent is to share it with Carrie later to help her with a divorce or restraining order that *she decided on*, then keep it discreetly, preferably offsite where she can’t find it. If the intent is to document incidents to make a case for increased site security for everyone that you will share with management or facilities, then be discreet in the business sense of not involving people in site security decisions who are not decision makers.

      Keeping a log and giving it to Carrie without her ever asking is where the overreach starts.

    4. Zarniwoop*

      A paper trail is a wonderful thing to have. Even if you never use it it’s good to know it’s there in case you ever need it.

  32. TootsNYC*

    I might discuss with Facilities whether we can create a parking-lot waiting area, something raised and unable to be hit by a car. And then insist that everyone wait there.

    A wooden platform, with railings and a rain and wind shield, maybe?
    Just to lessen that risk and send a message to Carrie that the company is looking out for her.

  33. NeedRain47*

    she’ll have to get in the car sometime, and if they somehow manage to prevent him from playing this stupid “game”, he’ll find another one. I don’t think it’s a good use of resources.

    1. Ermintrude (she/her)*

      A sturdy barrier is going to stop her being a victim of vehicular wounding, manslaughter and murder at her workplace, and protect her colleagues and any clients/customers too. Sounds like maybe it’s a good idea anyway.

  34. Lizy*

    Adding how important it is for OP (or anyone responding to a “not normal” story told by someone) to respond factually and kindly.

    I knew my family wasn’t “normal”. I knew things they did/said weren’t how normal people acted. But it was normal to me and so when telling the story and someone goes “whaaaaa that… actually happened???” I slowly began to realize this was so far beyond normal that I didn’t even know what normal was anymore. I could go on…

    Also, since Carrie is religious, and if the OP is comfortable, sharing Bible verses might be an option. Personally, I’ve struggled so much with the idea that Jesus taught us to love and turn the other cheek and honor your family… it’s been incredibly helpful to realize that there’s limits – He didn’t mean “sit there and take all the abuse”, and that it’s ok to set boundaries for yourself.

  35. Jamie (he/him)*

    Domestic violence is a scourge upon society and a scar upon men as a whole (yes, I know there are domestically violent women, but the vast majority are male-identified and it’s something that men like me should know about, act on if we see it in our male-identified friends and have zero tolerance for; we need to speak up).

    Alison, thank you for once again going the extra mile to find resources and experts to help a letter writer help a colleague who is faced with evil.

    To the letter writer: thank you for asking for help. There’s a natural limit on what you can do, but the fact that you’re asking means that you’re prepared to go right up to that limit for your colleague. More power to you.

    Carrie, should you ever see this: one day this poor excuse for a man will be in your past. You will be stronger for having left him behind. You are valuable and you are important. He is none of those things. You will prevail.

  36. Not giving my name this time*

    They could learn how NOT to deal with the situation by taking the example of the last workplace I worked at while I was with my ex as an example. They basically made it all about them and how his antics impacted them, such as framing his paranoid and angry phone calls and his demands on all my time outside my contracted hours, his constant spells of illness/hospitalizations which he leveraged for control purposes, and other things about him I had no control over, as performance issues. A little cabal of fee earners I supported started using his abuse as a means to bully me at work and tried to instigate performance proceedings. I couldn’t go to HR as she was one of the ringleaders. When the firm made a round of layoffs, the HR person gave me unrealistically low performance scores to make sure I was among one of the layoffs, even though despite everything I had become one of the department’s most experienced and knowledgeable admins. The employment lawyer I saw intimated that, reading between the lines, you could see what was going on, the problem would be proving any of it at tribunal. After the layoff, my ex sabotaged any efforts to get work and I was just stuck in his flat under his angry, paranoid thumb for another year until I finally left for the last time. I wasn’t happy in the job, especially after the bullying started (and no, I really *didn’t* have the energy to search for something else with all that going on), but at least it offered a private space to make calls, send emails and access the Internet, and keep important documents. They threw my safety to the wind in the name of “but we are a *business*…”

    1. GenX and loving it*

      Interesting. I started getting bullied at work the same time I was trying to leave my abusive ex. It was awful. Then I went to court to try to get custody. And was basically made out to be crazy. I’m glad I had my faith, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But I did struggle with the divorcing your spouse. …

      1. cncx*

        Same here. One boss decided to give me some compassionate leave when I showed up to work visibly injured, the dotted line boss didn’t like it and she started a campaign to get me fired.
        I quit beforehand and on some level she did me a favor because I wound up at an amazing job that saw me through my divorce. I stayed there ten years.

  37. jasmine*

    Part of me always feels a little dread when abuse comes up online because everyone has opinions. I really appreciate you taking the effort to bring in experts.

  38. Usually lurking*

    One thing that I noticed was missing from the excellent suggestions- some people have made suggestions on physical changes to help avoid some of the parking lot issues, but to me they point to another level of control that the employer may be able to help with. If she is dependent on him for transportation it makes escape even more difficult. If your office provides transportation benefits for transit service, organizes carpools, etc, those are also key resources to give her other options to be able to even get to and from work.

    1. There You Are*

      My brother was an abuser. I befriended one of his live-in girlfriends, which is how I learned just how much control abuser’s can wield over their victims’ lives.

      He pulled all the spark plugs out of her car so she couldn’t drive on her own. He drove her to and from work, and — because he felt he could trust me — asked me to take her / pick her up on a few occasions. He had said her car was broken down and they couldn’t afford to fix it. She, after a few months of us getting closer, told me the truth.

      One of the days I was supposed to take her to work, she had actually taken the day off. I showed up with new spark plugs and helped her load her things into her and my vehicles, and then moved her in with me.

      While my brother beat the living daylights out of me when we were kids, he knew not to mess with me as adults.

      Which is a looooong way round of saying that carpooling and transportation benefits could very well be a non-starter. She may be dependent on him for transportation *by his design*.

      1. I&I*

        Thank you for doing that. And I’m sorry you had to grow up with that for a brother. xxx

  39. Down with DV*

    I have noticed that during doctor visits, they have started asking if I felt safe at home. Perhaps OP can ask the suspected victim if she has been to the doctor lately. I don’t know what the response will be if you say no (I live alone), but this may be a way for the coworker to access resources.

    Tough situation, but all resources and suggestions are good. I work at home with no knowledge of what coworkers even look like.

    1. anon in affordable housing*

      “Do you feel safe at home?” is also code for “Are you intending to harm yourself or end your life?”

      I found this out the hard way after telling some health survey person I felt unsafe at home because of the unexpectedly high crime rate in my building and a recent police shooting. (It was all over the news for some reason.) She responded by sending the police for a welfare check. This made me feel even LESS safe because of a recent report about our police department’s bad reputation for shooting people at welfare checks. (The city keeps paying wrongful death settlements instead of cleaning up the police department. Well, now that the police union has a fentanyl trafficking scandal, maybe they won’t have so much influence over the city government.)

  40. Pyjamas*

    With respect to one on one conversations, I would assume that anything you say to your employee, she might repeat to her husband. Tread carefully. I’d use body language and facial expression to “un” normalize problematic behavior rather than anything quotable. Tread carefully and let her lead. Framing as messages to all employees is probably the way to start .

  41. Jules the 3rd*

    An additional step might be to help her set up an escape plan by:
    – helping her divert a small amount of her pay to an account the partner doesn’t know about, including any raises, bonuses, or overtime.
    – mentioning that the office can be a secure place to store important stuff like papers, medicines, or go bags.

  42. There You Are*

    It took me four years to get away from my [mental and emotional] abuser. First, I had to convince him that me going back to school to finish my degree and then get a Master’s was good for *him*, then I had to work on making him think that us breaking up was *his* idea. I was able to get our fourth (and last) couples’ counselor to help me on that part. And then I had to get a job that would pay all of my bills without any of the income from the business we co-own.

    It was exhausting. I woke up every morning knowing I had to play a role — Abuser’s Personal Emotional Manager and Punching Bag — and I had to do everything in my power to not let any of my own emotions show. (Which, tbh, I had already been doing for the first 13 years of our relationship, but that was before I saw his behavior for what it truly was).

    He still went nuclear in the mediated separation agreement talks and I am now a verrrrry minority owner in the small business I built, and the only retirement savings I have is what I’ve been able to put away starting in Feb 2020. He, on the other hand, is rolling in dough and fully set for retirement, since he got all the money in our savings accounts. Like, he could retire now, at age 57. I’ll be working until I’m 77, assuming my body doesn’t give out.

    But now I wake up every morning and the only people complaining about me and telling me I’m falling short of their expectations are five hungry cats. :-)

    To bring it back to the OP… just don’t expect overnight results. Plant the seed. Through your words and actions, let her know that she’s not alone and her entire world won’t collapse if she decides to get out of the relationship.

  43. Old sea hag*

    Removed. This is a horrible thing to do to someone and illegal in quite a few states. Also, if you’re writing “this will probably be removed,” please just don’t post it to begin with. – Alison

  44. SofiaDeo*

    When a woman I worked with (I was new) told the stories that “weren’t funny” my response was along the lines of “wow, I wouldn’t like that/find that funny”. He finally did something she considered intolerable, and turned to me for help. Others at work may have been uncomfortable with the things she was relating, but no one really said much if anything. I never questioned her, which often can put people on the defensive. But I made it clear I didn’t like *whatever* and she later told me she felt I would be supportive when she finally decided to do something. Like when she had a “hen party”, he kept coming up to us/making comments, nothing overt. I would say things like “I don’t like that he keeps checking on you like you can’t be trusted. I don’t think that’s normal.” Instead of “why does he keep checking on you? That’s not normal.” I talked about *my* feelings and how his actions made *me* feel, so she never felt pressured by me.

  45. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

    I feel like it would really help if they have security cameras recording the parking lot with a view toward where employees get picked up. I’d be kind of surprised if they don’t have such a thing just in case of an ordinary fender-bender in their lot.
    Security footage of these reckless incidents would help the employee, right? Each such instance is evidence of reckless endangerment at best and assault with a motor vehicle at worst. These are serious crimes and they’re already happening on your property.
    I feel like the reckless endangerment with his car in the parking lot is being a bit glossed over here in the understandable interest of sharing really useful DV information. But he’s already recklessly endangering others and their property. There’s other cars and possibly people in this lot when he pulls this stunt, yes? He already constitutes a danger to the public at large and anyone in your lot.
    LW’s organization (and their landlord if they have one) absolutely have standing to ban anyone who drives recklessly on the property. Seems to me they may even have a legal obligation to act if it’s an ongoing problem that they know of through multiple complaints.
    Whether LW addresses the employee’s abusive prick of a husband or not, or is able to offer her help or not, I think they actually have to address at least this part of it.

  46. Bowserkitty*

    The Hotline was such a fantastic resource for me, yet I only discovered it after getting out of my emotionally abusive relationship. I hope everything listed here helps.

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