Perspective: A Firm Stand on Domestic Violence; Companies Are Being Urged to Help Employees Who Become Victims of Domestic Violence. but One Woman Believes It Is Up to the Victim to Take the Initiative, as Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Reports
Byline: Paul Groves
The punches to the stomach weren't the problem so much as the fact that when he slapped her around the head the heavy gold chain around his wrist would leave a conspicuous mark or two on her face. Make-up sometimes did the trick, a few layers of foundation and some well-chosen mascara would help mask the damage.
But quite often Helen simply had to take a day or two off work to let the bruises, the scratches and the swelling subside enough.
The more she endured, the more her self-confidence plummeted. So even when the physical scars were well hidden, the mental scars forced her to stay home.
As a receptionist for a busy engineering company, putting on a cheery voice or a happy smile for callers was becoming unbearably hard.
After more than six months of 'unexplained absence', the odd day or two taken here and there regularly throughout that period, Helen was given a warning. She went home to plead with her husband to stop being so violent, but that just seemed to further enrage him.
So the 'unexplained absence' became a serious problem and two months after the warning Helen was asked to resign after she had been forced to take more time off work and was unwilling or unable to give a satisfactory reason.
'I don't blame them,' says the 45 year-old mother of a teenage girl. 'From their point of view I was taking a lot of time off for what seemed like no good reason.
'My immediate boss tried to talk to me about it and even one of the directors sat me down a couple of times. But I wouldn't and couldn't tell them truth.
'It wasn't that I was frightened. I'd worked there for six years and felt part of the 'family' and I just felt so ashamed of myself for getting into this situation.'
The violence continued for a few months more until Helen's daughter found her battered and bruised, slumped on the kitchen table, and called the police.
At first she was reluctant to press charges, but eventually she made a formal complaint against the man she had known since childhood and who had been her husband for almost 20 years.
He was given a suspended jail sentence and ordered to stay away from his wife and daughter. He now lives in another part of the country and has no contact at all with any of his family.
Helen is still not sure what triggered the violence. She now has a part-time job, a new flat and a resolve to encourage other victims to try and take control of their lives.
Last week a new guide to help employers and unions develop policies on how to support victims of domestic violence was published by the TUC.
Referring to figures from the 2001 British Crime Survey, the guide warns that 20 per cent of all violent crimes reported last year were of a domestic nature, and that women assaulted by their partners are likely to be attacked and abused repeatedly.
It is a problem that will affect one in four women at some point in their lives, according to the guide. The TUC points out that while employers have no legal obligation to act over domestic violence, the existence of a sensible policy is a goal towards which all workplaces should be working.
Yet while the problem affects many women, the guide warns that employees might not want to share details of their private lives with colleagues or managers.
It advises that anyone approaching a woman with a violent partner needs to proceed very sensitively.
This is a point reinforced by Helen. 'I'm still not sure I could sit down and talk with my former employers about this, even though I'd known them for so long,' she explains.
'I'm like a lot of people. …