IT made for harrowing listening last Friday morning at the Central Library in Tullamore. The story of Jessica Bowes and the shameful way she was treated by her line manger at the HSE and the gardai at one of the most vulnerable times in her life.
Jessica was speaking at the launch of a new leaflet produced by Offaly Domestic Violence Support Services (ODVSS) which gives information to employers and employees on how they can support victims of domestic violence in the workplace.
In 2015, Jessica was savagely attacked by her ex-partner and father of her children. She had attended a Christmas Party despite warnings from her ex-partner that she should not. When she got home he was hiding in the garden. He pulled her from the taxi and broke every bone in her face fracturing her skull and leaving her completely traumatised and suffering memory loss. She underwent reconstructive surgery on her face on Christmas Eve.
Prior to this attack there had been other what Jessica termed “smaller assaults” one of which happened at her workplace the HSE.
“I was sitting in the clinic for plastic surgery. I could hear my phone in my bag vibrating but I couldn’t answer and I knew this was making him furious,” said Jessica.
Her ex then arrived at her place of work and asked at reception where she was. “He approached me and pulled me by the throat from behind my desk, dragged me down a flight of stairs and said he had a blade. A colleague called security, but security never made it on time. He pulled me off campus out to the street I managed to escape into a shop, where I met a colleague who comforted me, stayed with me before he left and called the guards. He left, but before he left he stole my car,” recounted Jessica.
Later that day, Jessica returned back to work to collect her belongings. The clinic was over at this time. “I waited for the guards. I waited for four hours and they never arrived,” she said.
The next day Jessica went to work and said she felt embarrassed and humiliated. “I was expecting a little bit of sympathy. I had been pulled from my desk and on the way through the car park he punched me off the site.”
The girls she worked with asked her was she okay. Then Jessica got a phone call from her line manager who said she wanted to see her. ‘
’She said she needed to talk to me about what happened yesterday. I said okay that will never happen again. I could never guarantee that would not happen again but that was my first reaction,” explained Jessica. ‘Well you didn’t come back and you left the clinic unattended, so how do you want to take this,’ asked her line manager. “I wasn’t sure what she meant. ‘Do you want to take it as annual leave or unpaid leave because you weren’t in work?’ she asked. “Don’t we have a zero tolerance policy against violence towards staff,” asked Jessica. “Yeah but we don’t normally deal with something like this,” was the answer she got.
“Because I was assaulted by somebody I knew I was chastised, I was punished, I was shamed and I was docked wages,” Jessica said.
“Needless to say I was furious at the way I was treated. I was actually just covering maternity leave as a courtesy to this particular line manager. So I handed in my notice and went back to my own job. The job I had applied for was a promotion I have never applied for a promotion again.
I have lost a bit of interest in my job, my employer, and in the whole system that was supposed to support me. Available to me in my job at the hospital was an accident and emergency unit, a social worker, consultant, counsellors, nurses and doctors. I should have been looked after but I wasn’t. I was reprimanded.”
Jessica said she wasn’t emotionally able to deal with the situation at the time. “I wasn’t strong enough to say how dare you treat me like that. I have lots of regrets about how I handled the way she treated me. I have made recommendations to my employer about what they can do to protect people like me but they have been ignored,” she added.
Introducing Jessica the manager of ODVSS Anne Clarke described her as a formidable lady who has been speaking in Leinster House regarding mandatory child maintenance for children left without a parent. She is also attending King’s college to study law. Jessica waved her right to anonymity in order to bring her ex-partner to justice and to campaign for longer sentences for domestic violence abusers. Her ex spent 22 months in prison before being released.
Secretary of ODVSS Tom Walsh outlined the things to look out for in work colleagues are bruises on or above the wrist, black eyes, bruises to the neck or face, subtle changes of clothing or make-up to help hide bruising.
Mr Walsh said ODVSS which was founded in 1997 aims to address all violence in all relationships. He added that one in four women will experience domestic violence and one in 7 males. He said 79 per cent of victims will never disclose abuse and a woman will try to leave a violent relationship up to 7 times before she actually does so. “It crosses all social, racial, educational gender and religious backgrounds,” he said.
Historically employers considered it a personal issue and many employees don’t inform their employers and are often embarrassed, he said. “Having a source of income is critical to being able to get away from a dangerous situation,” he stressed. He said violent partners may try to jeopardise their partners jobs by cutting up their work clothes, stealing their car keys, having spyware attached to their computers, or stalking them at work. There can be a pattern of absenteeism following abuse the night before and low productivity due to depression and anxiety.”
Lending support to the brochure was Social Democrats Councillor Clare Claffey who was highly critical of a situation which sees no domestic violence accommodation in all of Offaly. “The Midlands is a total black spot and the number of people using the ODVSS is growing,” she outlined. She continued The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence which was ratified by the Irish government last March, outlines there should be a family accommodation unit per 10,000 population. “With a population of 58,000, that means that we should have a minimum of 6 units available instead we have none. It is the obligation of the state to fully address it in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators,” she said.
Cllr Claffey said she was looking forward to working closely with ODVSS and with Offaly county council to provide a better service for victims in the county.
The new leaflet called Domestic Violence & the Workplace publishes guidelines for employers, It recommends that employers provide a safe environment for the employee to talk and to ensure it is away from other employees and to ensure confidentiality.
For more information contact ODVSS on 0579351886.