Q. I believe one of my female co-workers is in an abusive relationship. She frequently has bruises and the explanations don’t fit. I have tried to get close to the subject but she shuts me down every time. What can I do?

A. Domestic violence is, in many ways, a quiet epidemic. Though in plain sight, victims are often invisible, fearfully denying their situation and hiding behind the facade of a happy home. But the statistics reveal a shocking reality. Every nine seconds, a woman in America is assaulted or beaten. A mind-boggling one in three women (and one in four men) has been a victim of physical brutality by an intimate partner. That makes intimate partner violence “the single greatest cause of injury to women.”
Lilly was one of these women. Her husband of 24 years had been controlling and sexually violent for much of their marriage. Here is her story:
“Max would force me to have sex, tearing my clothes off if I didn’t respond quick enough. He told me all wives give their husbands sex when they want it, it was “my duty.” I never talked to other women about my situation to see if they too were forced to have sex. I was extremely private. But I was in a lot of emotional and physical pain.
My work was my salvation, even though it was often high stress, it was my refuge. One day my supervisor called me into her office. After a few minutes of tangential conversation she wanted to know what was wrong. She said my eyes revealed much sadness. I really liked her and felt comfortable to talk about work stuff but no way could I tell her what was happening at home.
While I was in her office my phone kept buzzing. I told her that I absolutely had to answer it because it was my husband and he would be angry if I didn’t answer. She asked if I was being abused and controlled by my husband. I told her absolutely not. No way.
A couple of weeks passed and she wanted to talk to me again. She strongly suggested that I call the company’s employee assistance program and talk to a therapist. I said I did not need to do that. She handed me the phone……..and I called, reluctantly.
I have been seeing a therapist for over one year and I have learned many things about domestic violence and how I really have been a victim. I have not left my husband. This has been a process. I keep hearing his words in my head, “If you leave me and I see you with someone else, I will kill you.”
I am getting stronger and putting a plan together with education from my counselor, talking to an attorney and my very supportive supervisor. I have also made a few female friendships. I have found my voice, but I am trying to use it wisely.

Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City

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