Domestic Abuse: How to Be an Ally. Image: © Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com
My dental hygienist, Karen, told me her story and asked me to share it with you. She wants to help anyone who may be going through this same nightmare.
Karen had been married to Rob for 4 years. She would show up to work late some days and had action plans put in place to address this. Her dentist was compassionate because he understood what was going on, but no one talked about it. Karen came into work with black eyes and tried to cover them up with makeup or by wearing her hair down, which did not always work well when caring for patients. This became the elephant in the room.
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She was aware of how uncomfortable her work family was with her situation, but did not want to talk about it. She was afraid that if she did, she would be asked whether Rob might show up at the office and be violent. For employers, this is a tricky situation. How can you ensure the safety of all of your employees? You cannot discriminate against a person in this situation, but there are employers who will fire someone experiencing domestic violence or pay them a nice amount to find another job. I know it is ugly to say this out loud, but it happens.
Karen said that, in the beginning of her relationship, Rob was kind and thoughtful, but a little possessive. They had an incredibly romantic courtship but, in retrospect, it was fraught with red flags. Her family did not like him, but she didn’t care because she was in love. He sometimes snapped at her, which made her uncomfortable, but she did not register what was happening. Since her family did not like him, he started manipulating her to have less and less contact with them, and Karen stopped going to family events and talking to her mom. Rob continued to isolate her from her support system of family and friends.
The cycle began. She did not feel anyone would understand. She loved him, but believed he just had a problem. She felt that maybe if she were a better wife, he would stop. But he did not.
Things came to a head the night he attempted to strangle her. She clawed, kicked, and fought for her life. Somehow, she was able to run out of the house, screaming. Her neighbors called the police, and Rob was arrested. This was a terrifying time for Karen. She feared for her life. Rob’s handprints on her neck were photographed. And she finally decided to ask for help. Rob had told her repeatedly that if she ever left him, he would kill her and burn down her parents’ house. He was dead serious.
A female police officer came to her home that night and helped her decide what her next steps would be. Karen decided to go into a shelter and get the help she needed. She had never filed charges in the past. But, with compassionate counselors and that police officer, she took steps to regain her life.
She moved into a women’s shelter in another state until the trial ended and Rob was incarcerated. She says that was the most challenging time in her life, starting to rebuild all that she had lost. She is putting her life back together. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder but is determined to live her life without fear. She worked to get back together with her family. Then, she got her job back.
It is with such strength that she survived this nightmare. Even though Rob is in jail, it is not over for her, but she is in the process of healing. It takes time, but she is a survivor. Karen wants you to know that asking someone if they are OK matters. Making it safe to speak freely matters. Being there when everything goes haywire matters. If you need help or someone to talk to, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. This call could save your life.
If you can relate to Karen’s situation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is hope and help available. You are not alone. To learn how you can help someone experiencing domestic abuse, please visit this website.