If it wasn’t for the lingering smell of aftershave and a steamy car window, Sharon Livermore might not be alive to tell her story today.
Sharon met her abuser on a sales course when she was working as a recruitment consultant. She was immediately captivated by his charisma and thoughtfulness. He was attentive and clever, charming both her and her colleagues. The pair started dating, and Sharon, who had two children aged 7 and 9, was ‘swept off her feet’.
After they got married Sharon’s life changed dramatically. She was subjected to relentless coercive and controlling behaviour, as well as emotional and physical abuse. She was gradually forced to isolate from friends and family, not allowed to talk or reach out to anyone. A dynamic, intelligent and successful woman, Sharon describes her life as shrinking, becoming smaller and smaller over time. “I lost who I was as a person and I just felt so alone,” she says. Even work was not always a safe place. Her perpetrator would call constantly or just show up uninvited.
After 18 months of abuse, Sharon realised she had to do something to protect herself and her children. “There was just no way out. Fortunately I still had my house, and I was making my own money. But I realised that if I lost my job, I would lose everything. I went to my boss at work, and the next day, I went to the police station.”
Her perpetrator was arrested, but was released from custody on bail the following Saturday. In the two days after his release, he plotted Sharon’s abduction and murder. He broke into her house and stole her spare set of car keys.
The next Wednesday, well aware of the danger he presented, Sharon went to court to file a non-molestation order against him. Then she returned to work. In the evening, she headed for her car, saying goodbye to a colleague in the parking lot.
As she got in her vehicle, Sharon had a sense of foreboding, suddenly imagining her perpetrator behind her. When she spun around, there was nobody there. She had noticed that her car’s windows were steaming up, which was odd. As she sat in the car, she smelt her abuser’s aftershave. Instinct propelled her to check under her car seat, where she found a picnic blanket that was normally left in the boot. She got out of the car and opened the boot, and she found her abuser there, waiting with a knife and cable ties. She ran, and he came after her.
Thanks to the intervention of a work colleague, Sharon was able to escape from her perpetrator that evening, though he fled the scene in her car. He was subsequently arrested and jailed for attempted kidnapping. “They knew he wanted to murder me but they couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. He spent two days planning his actions. At no point did he think it was a really stupid thing to do,” she says.
Domestic Abuse and the Workplace
As Sharon started to rebuild her life, she knew she wanted to do more to raise awareness of domestic abuse. When she launched her own business, Kameo Recruitment five years ago, she used it as a platform to shine a light on domestic abuse and the workplace. Working with EIDA, Sharon also launched ‘Sharon’s Policy’, a free domestic abuse policy template, to help businesses implement their frameworks quickly and at no cost. This year, she also set up Domestic Abuse Education to work with businesses and support them on their journeys as they integrate domestic abuse policies into their companies.
The Importance of a Framework or Domestic Abuse Policy
There are key lessons that businesses can learn from Sharon’s story. Some of her colleagues knew her perpetrator, for example, and though there were moments where things felt ‘strange’, they did not have education around domestic abuse, or any type of framework or policy to consult to take things forward. And so key warning signs were ignored.
She is grateful to her employers for the support they did provide however. By allowing her time off to go to the police, and by covering for her, her employer enabled her to report her abuser and get help. When she understandably struggled with getting back into her own car, they also provided her with a company car until the insurance replaced it.
But things might have been different if the firm had a domestic abuse policy in place. “It wasn’t their fault, but six months after it happened I had to take annual leave for the case. It wasn’t like I was lying on a beach sipping a cocktail. I was reliving my worst nightmare. If they had been educated about domestic abuse, if they had realised the impact it continued to have, they would have handled the whole situation differently, which is why I knew I had to start campaigning on this issue,” she says.
Vital Need For Education
Employers need to educate themselves about the different types of abuse that occur, whether it is physical abuse, controlling behaviour, economic abuse, coercion, stalking, or something else. They also need to learn how to start a conversation with employees they are worried about, and then be prepared to signpost those people to resources and to local support. They must also understand that domestic abuse can be traumatising, even years after the abuse, Sharon points out.
In Sharon’s case, her perpetrator went to prison for seven years, but now he’s out. “Automatically, people assume that because seven years have passed, I would have moved on, but for the first couple of weeks for me after he came out, because it was dark when I got to work, it was really triggering. Trauma can rear its head at any time and employers can provide critical support,” she says.
Domestic Abuse and Mental Health
Sharon also wants businesses to also consider the intersection between domestic abuse and mental health and wellbeing, and integrate domestic abuse policymaking into their existing wellbeing frameworks. “Domestic abuse can have a real impact on mental health. It can cause anxiety or depression for example. If you have a framework already in place, then you can integrate your domestic abuse policy into it. We’re not talking about major changes, we’re talking about allowing someone to take compassionate leave, to go to counselling, in work time if needed.”
Mostly, she wants businesses to understand the vital role they can play in tackling the issue. “For some victims, work is often the only safe space that they can access, which is why it is so important for them to get the support they need at work. If we can normalise the conversation around domestic abuse at work, if we can create really open environments where people feel they won’t be judged for disclosing, or where they aren’t going to worry about losing their jobs, then you can make a real difference.”