As reports of domestic abuse reach one in four women and one in six men, the team at Yeovil Hospital believes it is vital that employers take an active role in supporting employees affected.

Supporting the 16 Days Of Action campaign, Domestic Violence and Abuse Lead at the hospital Donna Allender said: “People affected by domestic abuse don’t always come to me through the doors of our A&E department. I support many people throughout Yeovil Hospital including employees who may have concerns about an intimate partner or family member.

“We encourage individuals to seek support at work as this offers a unique opportunity to work safely. Employees can access my skills and experience in a private and confidential setting, exploring concerns of abuse in this way can serve to educate and empower individuals to make choices to improve their personal circumstances. As a responsible employer Yeovil Hospital allows employees time during working hours to safely access these support services in confidence.”

This support was essential for Abbey*, a nurse at Yeovil Hospital

Abbey said: “If it wasn’t for the local police and the team at work – in my department itself, Donna as domestic abuse lead and the senior management team – I’m sure I would still be in that situation, pretending it was all fine, trying to please him as I tried not to rock the boat and make things worse.”

Very early on in her relationship with James*, Abbey knew it was different than previous relationships she’d had but James was very good at justifying his behaviour in a convincing way, making Abbey believe it was her fault when he got angry and started smashing things. The relationship developed very quickly with James choreographing a move into Abbey’s home soon after the relationship started. “James would shout a lot but it was always ‘my fault’ so I stopped raising things or questioning anything, adapting to navigate his moods.”

When Abbey went out with friends, James would bombard her with calls and messages, putting curfews in place. Friends were noticing a change in Abbey. “My friends saw that I wasn’t drinking much and instead of staying out late I’d make my excuses to leave at 10pm as I knew there would be consequences if I stayed out later. James would message saying he was coming to the pub I was in so it was easier to go home and not cause a scene.”

There was growing concern for Abbey with family, friends and neighbours often alerting the police. “Every time the police came it was so much worse once they’d left. But even with that I didn’t recognise myself as being in an abusive relationship.”

Abbey’s realisation developed over a period of some months and only after the police contacted Yeovil Hospital’s Domestic Violence and Abuse Lead Donna. Donna was able to make contact with Abbey at work, but initially Abbey was fairly convincing in stating she was fine. Police concern grew and a Claire’s Law disclosure was made to Abbey. “At first I didn’t want to acknowledge the problem. He had never beaten me up. He’s gone at me before, but not left me black and blue so I didn’t think it really counted as domestic violence. The more Donna showed me the charts detailing domestically abusive activities the more I recognised the behaviours, although I didn’t admit it out loud for a long time.”

The turning point came after quite a few months of speaking with Donna. “Things escalated and James beat up a friend of mine because he saw me talking to him in town one afternoon. Then he threw a heavy saucepan, but this time it was right at me. Suddenly everything clicked into place and I called Donna to finally admit I really needed her help.”

Donna planted that seed and didn’t give up on me. She wasn’t pushy either, encouraging me to take control back and giving me the support I needed to do that. My parents are amazing and I love them to pieces but they were too close to it all and just nagged at me to leave him. I knew they didn’t like James but their reaction (which was through love and wanting to protect me) made me put my walls up further. I didn’t see or speak to my mum for 18 months as James would be upset if I did. It sounds silly now. How could I let him control me like that? But it honestly didn’t feel that bad – I think it became normal for me.”

The impact of James’ psychological abuse on Abbey has been significant. “He regularly blocked my access to my own car, left me in debt, I lost my home and I was left with no friends or contact with my family. I’d spent so long minimising everything it was a long journey of realisation.

“Donna was amazing ensuring my confidentiality at all times. I was so terrified James would find out the police had come to my workplace and I was meeting with Donna, but he never did. I was with James for five years and it’s not been easy breaking free from him. I have had many wobbles along the way but engaging with Donna throughout this last year helped me to finally end the relationship.

“I left James last April and after sorting out the practical side of everything with finances and housing etc I feel like I’m now at the heartbreak part. I try not to show it but, in truth, I feel broken. I think I will for a while but I know my line manager and Donna are here for me and I’m taking time to see my family and friends again.”

For Abbey the red flags were there very early on but it’s easy to ignore the ‘little’ things. Abbey is keen to advise others: “If someone gets angry quickly, hits things and blames you saying ‘I wouldn’t get like this if you didn’t act that way’ then leave, go. It’s not normal and it’s not safe. Help is out there.

“For anyone working within Yeovil Hospital, I can say with confidence that you will be heard and you will get the support you need. They absolutely went above and beyond. Donna even came and looked at houses with me and helped me find solutions to the financial mess he’d left me in, HR were great in supporting my time off work to get things in place.”

Donna said: “Not everyone recognises that they are in a domestically abusive relationship, although they often feel that something is just not right, yet are too anxious or afraid to act upon that knowing. As a Health IDVA a primary concern for me is about raising awareness around the negative impact of abuse on our health and wellbeing, affecting our ability to flourish at work and home. I really urge employees to seek help and support. At Yeovil Hospital, staff can contact me direct, speak to their line manager or let a senior member of staff who they trust and feel comfortable with know. We’re all here to help.”

Yeovil Hospital’s Head of Governance and Assurance Bernice Cooke added: “Our staff are extremely valuable to us, often working with us for many years and becoming part of the YDH family. We know many will have times in their life when they need more support than at other times and it is important that as a responsible employer we offer this in an appropriate way.”

Domestic Abuse is an incident or incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, by a partner or ex-partner. It can include coercive control; psychological and emotional abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse; financial abuse; harassment; stalking; and online or digital abuse.

Tina Robinson, Superintendent, Avon and Somerset Police, and Force lead for Domestic Abuse said: “Unfortunately domestic abuse is something that we are very familiar with. It’s happening everywhere and there is no ‘typical’ picture of a domestic abuse victim.

“No matter who you are, or what form the abuse is taking we know that it is extremely difficult to come forward and talk about what’s happening. The message we want people to come away with is that there is help every step of the way.”

*names have been changed to protect identities

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