While facing physical and emotional abuse at home from her husband Graham, Jenny tried to act as normal as possible at work and to not let it affect her performance. But she was receiving numerous calls a day from her suspicious husband that she felt she had to answer – even during work meetings. Jenny became increasingly anxious, and her work suffered as a result.
“That was a turning point for me, I think. I’d always been a high achiever at work. When my boss started making comments about my performance, I realised I couldn’t go on the way I was.”
Jenny’s one of the one in four Australian women who have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and one of the 800,000 victims of family violence who are in paid employment.
According to Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Jenny’s situation could have been improved if she’d had access to paid domestic violence leave. It could have helped her manage court dates, retain some financial freedom and ultimately keep her job.
Jenny’s decision to leave Graham to go and stay at a friend’s place saw her husband become even more abusive – showing up at her friend’s house, yelling at her to stay, harassing her at work, constantly calling the office and sending relentless emails and text messages.
“One day he turned up at the office and started screaming at me, accusing me of having an affair. It was mortifying. I pretended his anger was justified and took the blame, because somehow that seemed less humiliating than having an abusive husband.”
That scene consequently strained her relationship with some of her colleagues, and she says her stress and anxiety heightened from there. “I was scared to go to work in case Graham was waiting for me, so I ended up taking all my annual leave to stay away. When that ran out, my anxiety doubled.”
Jenny was not only anxious about her job, but her financial security.
After getting married, Graham had insisted Jenny put all her earnings in their joint account. He gave her $550 every fortnight to take care of household expenses and pay for her own needs, while Graham kept a separate account.
Having grown up in a home where her father controlled the household finances, she accepted the situation. “I guess I thought that was the way marriages worked,” she says. “I trusted that Graham was making financial decisions for the benefit of both of us.”
Faced with no financial stability and concerned she’d lose her job (all the while her husband was threatening to kill himself if she didn’t return home), Jenny decided the best option was to return to Graham, and to try and repair the marriage.
“Things settled down for a while, and I started to relax again. I secured a major deal at work and my boss was pleased with me again. Everything was going well until I went out for a drink one night with a male colleague to celebrate a new account.” When she got home, Graham was waiting. He’d been watching her. “I ended up in hospital that night.”
Jenny was referred to a refuge run by Good Shepherd. She says she felt safe and understood there, and more comfortable being around women who empathised with her situation.
But going to work was a different story. She felt terrified. Unable to change her number, she continued to receive threats from Graham. She also needed time off work to arrange an intervention order, but with no annual leave left, she had to take unpaid leave.
“I told my boss what was going on and asked if I could work from the refuge while I waited for the intervention order, but she said she needed me in the office.”
Jenny felt she had no choice but to quit her job to stay safe. She found herself unemployed, living in a refuge, with no purpose and no confidence.
Jenny says the Good Shepherd family violence counsellors helped her deal with her anxiety and depression, and offered support while she started to rebuild her life. She had to move from her family and friends to escape Graham and it took her a year to find another job but, for Jenny, the most important thing was finally feeling safe.
Having chosen not to access the equity in her home immediately – to avoid contact with Graham – Jenny was thankfully able to access financial coaching and support from Good Shepherd to build up some savings.
“Eventually I was able to buy furniture and a car,” she says. “It’s been three years since I left Graham, and I almost feel like the old me again.”
Paid family violence leave can mitigate some of the torment Jenny faced. It permits women the time off from work necessary to deal with their situation and to access protective measures, while also providing a level of financial stability.
Such time off can help women in attending everything from appointments with banks to making housing arrangements, recovering from injury or even having to hide somewhere to stay safe.
In Jenny’s case (and in the case of many other female victims), if her former employer had offered such leave, Jenny may have retained her job. She may have also found more support and understanding from her colleagues and former employer.
As such, Good Shepherd is advocating for more organisations to offer paid family violence leave in order to support more women to stay safe and to reduce the ripple effects of the violence they are experiencing, such as lost income and reduced financial security, which can impact their lives long after they leave the relationship.
*Names have been changed.
Women’s Agenda has partnered with Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand to research and raise more awareness of paid domestic violence leave.
You can donate to Good Shepherd’s current appeal to support women who’re rebuilding their lives after family violence here.
You can complete our three minute, anonymous poll on paid domestic violence leave here.