Violent boyfriend cost an Auckland woman three jobs in a year

A new programme aims to make the workplace a safe place where domestic abuse sufferers can come and get help. (File photo)
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A new programme aims to make the workplace a safe place where domestic abuse sufferers can come and get help. (File photo)

An Auckland woman whose abusive boyfriend cost her three jobs in one year is calling for workplace awareness of domestic violence.

Nobody noticed that the flat tyres and stomach bugs seeming to plague Rebecca* were cover-ups for a far more sinister reality. Much like the make-up hiding her bruises.

Her bosses saw her as a flake: always late, taking excessive breaks, and forever on her phone. She said she didn't blame them for letting her go; they had no idea her boyfriend was prone to confiscating her car keys, holding a knife to her throat, or abducting her at lunch.

​"I was making excuses for my partner like nobody's business, the biggest tell tale sign the abuse was really bad," the 31-year-old said. "I was making excuses not to be around people who could have kept me safe."

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More than half of New Zealand women report having experienced physical and/or psychological abuse from their partner, according to national research centre the Family Violence Clearinghouse.

Domestic violence support group Shine said Rebecca and those like her get punished for their partners' behaviour — unfairly. Shine aims to help bosses and colleagues notice and help domestic abuse victims, through a new programme called the DVFree Tick. 

'THE ONE SAFE PLACE'

On Tuesday, Westpac became the first DVFree certified business.

Westpac CEO David McLean said he'd taken up the programme after realising the office could be "the one safe place [domestic abuse sufferers] could come and get help".

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"Outside work they're often in the perpetrator's control," he said.

Shine's programme complements the Green Party's domestic violence-victims' protection bill, which is currently before a select committee.

The bill would give victims of domestic violence 10 days of paid leave to move house, attend court hearings, and consult lawyers.

REBECCA'S STORY: 'ALL THE EXCUSES UNDER THE SUN'

Rebecca was born in New Zealand, grew up in Rarotonga, and returned to Auckland for her 7th form year. She met her partner at a vulnerable moment shortly after her mother died, when she was 25.

"I think I was looking for comfort," she said.

"It felt so nice to be appreciated, and I guess he made me feel secure. The intensity of how he'd hold me, or look at me ... he'd look at me like he could eat me."

The relationship started unravelling around the eight month mark. While Rebecca had a job with a temping agency, a flat, and a car, her partner had nothing; she said his insecurities began to dominate their lives.

He insisted on dropping her off and picking her up from work each day, in her car, she said. He would incessantly text her throughout her shifts, take her out every break, and often lurk outside her office.

"There were so many little, manipulative things," said Rebecca. "Like hiding my keys and phone, or taking me out for lunch, getting angry, then saying 'nah, I'm not taking you back to work, you can walk'."

Rebecca's boss noticed she was often late back, and called her out for being unreliable.

"I would say things like 'sorry, we got a flat tyre and my phone died'," she said. "Or that I got sick while we were out and couldn't stop throwing up — all the excuses under the sun."

The boss got fed up and Rebecca got fired.

She said she had felt too ashamed to reveal the cause of her flakiness. She was also scared her boss might call the cops, as Rebecca had already done once after her boyfriend had hit her at home.

"The police took him in, but let him out the next day — it seemed like the safest thing I could do was to not get him in trouble again, so he wouldn't come back even more angry," she said.

His abusive behaviour intensified during her next job, at a call centre. She said there was more violence at home, she was late every second or third day, and got questioned on why her boyfriend was "always hanging around outside, watching".

At a loss, she opened up to her team leaders: "they asked what they could do to help — but really, I thought there was nothing they could do."

Before they could get any further, Rebecca's boyfriend barred her from returning to the office. She said he confiscated her car keys and when her boss called, he held a knife to her throat and hissed "tell them you're not coming in".

"I ended up telling them 'sorry for the inconvenience, but I can't come back to work'," she said. 

Rebecca began to see her career as a cycle dictated by her boyfriend.

"He wanted money but wouldn't get a job, so needed me to work," she said. "But when I was at work he'd be so paranoid I was cheating on him that he'd sabotage my job."

The final job she had in that relationship was at a retail store. Rebecca was the only staff member on duty during the day, which gave her boyfriend ample opportunity to to hound her — including hitting her across the face.

She had make-up on hand to cover her bruises, and would tell clients that she'd tripped over and split her lip. If there was blood on the floor, she would hastily wipe it up before any customers walked in.

Customers complained to Rebecca's manager about her boyfriend, who had become a somewhat menacing presence outside the store.

"Of course I told them he was just worried because I was working on my own, that he wanted to keep me safe," she said.

Eventually Rebecca reached a make-or-break point and got in touch with Shine. Her boyfriend was arrested and she wound up in a women's refuge.

She kept her job for another two months, before quitting — even though her now-ex boyfriend was in jail, he still managed to control her career.

"All I could think was 'he's gonna get released and he knows where I work'," she said. "I needed to move out of my house, change my job, and let every one know to be on alert."

Rebecca now works as an office administrator for an interior decorating company and describes herself as "a changed and strong woman". She said that enlightenment would have come sooner had her workplaces been attuned to the hallmarks of domestic violence.

DON'T SAY 'JUST LEAVE THE B......'

DVFree facilitator Graham Barnes said that while bringing up domestic abuse in the office might seem like breaching the professional-personal divide, it did make good business sense.

"Staff turnover costs a lot of money, and this sends a strong message of staff loyalty," he said. 

"We're not saying employers have to fix the domestic violence — that's way beyond their brief. They just need to make the workplace safe for victims to speak out, then connect them with Shine to put things in place for them to deal with their actual relationship and its aftermath."

The worst thing a boss or colleague could do if a staff member did admit to being domestically abused would be to command "just leave the b......", said Barnes. "That shows a real lack of understanding."

Staying with an abusive partner could seem counter-intuitive, but was often a rationally thought out decision: "They'll say things like 'if you leave me, I'll fight to the very end for our children', they'll threaten your family members and friends, and they'll threaten you," he said.

"If you've lived with someone who's consistently made threats, and they've shown they're prepared to follow through with a number of those threats, it's much safer to stay with them in the short term."

*For the victim's safety, we have not published her real name.

If you or a family member need help, contact Shine on 0508 744 633. To register your business for the DVFree tick, click here.

 

 - Stuff

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