When the bouquet of irises arrived at the woman’s workplace, they seemed to be a loving gift from her husband.
But attached to them was a note, which read: “These are the flowers I will put on your grave.”
She was being threatened with death if she ever spoke up about the physical and emotional abuse she had suffered. Her colleagues had no idea that she was a victim of domestic violence; a crime which affects one in four women and one in six men and costs the UK economy around £1.9bn a year.
Many men and women are abused in the place in which they should feel safest, but they won’t tell their employers because they fear they will be shunned or overlooked for promotion. Seventy five per cent of victims are targeted at work, often via phone calls or threatening text messages.
Apart from the private anguish, there’s a colossal economic cost. Victims of domestic violence are more likely to be off sick or turn up late, through no fault of their own, so employers who protect workers from their tormentors will reap a direct economic benefit.
An event is being held in Yorkshire next month which will help domestic violence victims by encouraging more companies to create a support network for them.
The Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence (CAADV) is made up of big companies who are working together to support victims. They are also encouraging their abusers to seek help.
The CAADV, which was founded by Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, is holding a business breakfast at the Royal Armouries in Leeds on September 6 to encourage more firms to join the alliance.
Melissa Morbeck, the executive director at CAADV, said the charity’s work was aimed at people who endure domestic violence, people who witness it and those who commit it.
She wants companies to become part of the “safety planning process”, and ensure that there are champions in the workplace for people who have been affected by domestic violence.
She added: “The aim of the event in Leeds is to spread the word that victims are not alone. Fifteen businesses have come forward since the end of February and said that they need our help. Families have become safer and at least one perpetrator has come forward and said ‘I have an issue.’”
Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employer organisation, which is sponsoring the CAADV’s Leeds event, said: “On average, two women are killed as a result of domestic violence each week, and one man a fortnight dies.
“The NHS is facing challenging times with the need to identify and make efficiency savings of £20bn. Some might argue that tackling domestic violence is low down the priority list. But beyond the moral imperative to act, there is a strong business case to consider, given the costs to employers of lost time due to sickness and reduced productivity.
Since 2005 – the year CAADV was formed – the NHS has run a campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence among its managers. With help from CAADV, employers can take simple steps to keep victims safe. For example, security staff can have a plan of action to deal with abusers who try to contact victims at work. Security teams can walk staff to cars, taxis or train stations. Staff can be trained to spot signs of domestic abuse, and a person in the firm can be appointed to provide counselling.
Emma Pearmaine, the Leeds-based head of family law at Simpson Millar, which is also sponsoring the business breakfast, said: “Victims can be anxious not to reveal to their employers that they are sufferers of domestic violence because they think it might affect the way they are treated, trusted and promoted at work.
“This means that the sufferer does not get the support needed to break out of the cycle of domestic violence.
“Strong domestic violence policies in the workplace provide protection, empowerment and reassurance to employees at a time when they most need it.”
The dilemmas facing victims were illustrated by a recent case, in which Ms Pearmaine represented a woman who had suffered long-term abuse from her partner.
Ms Pearmaine advised the woman that she would need to attend court in order to apply for a non-molestation order. Initially, the woman declined because she didn’t want to take time off work. She feared her employer would discover she was a victim of domestic violence, and make damaging assumptions about her character. The woman feared it would wreck her chances of promotion.
However, Ms Pearmaine persuaded the woman to tell her employers about the fact she had been abused, and they were sympathetic and supportive.
Ms Pearmaine added: “By signing up to CAADV, employers could make a massive difference to those people affected, and strengthen their workforce and business.”