Wearing sunglasses indoors, long sleeves in hot weather and more makeup than usual could be signs that someone is a victim of domestic violence.

Recognizing potential signs of abuse early can prevent more severe—and even fatal—acts of violence, a series of speakers said Friday morning at a YWCA Rock County workshop on domestic violence.

The workshop, called “It’s Everyone’s Business,” tried to show how domestic violence spills out of the home and into the workplace. Employers and co-workers should be aware of the signs—and know how to respond—when they encounter a potential victim in the workplace, speakers said.

Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary said domestic violence is involved in the majority of cases his office handles. He also addressed the myth that certain professions are immune to domestic violence.

“I have charged individuals who are doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, blue-collar workers, professionals,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary had to leave the event early to work on the case of Mario E. Lopez, 29, of Janesville, who is charged in the fatal stabbing of his stepfather in a domestic violence incident.

Managers or supervisors should be aware of threats facing their employees. Perpetrators of domestic violence can seek to sabotage their victims’ work lives and try to get them fired, or they can show up at work knowing their victims will be there, speakers said.

Jessi Luepnitz, a YWCA Rock County program director, said 78 percent of victims think their abusers have showed up at their workplaces, and 13 percent said they were assaulted at their workplaces.

Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski shared tools for handling an angry domestic-violence offender in the workplace. However, he said, it’s essential to find a safe place and call 911 as soon as possible.

Engaging with an angry subject, while sometimes unavoidable, can make things worse for more people, Zibolski said.

About 98 percent of victims believe domestic violence has affected their ability to concentrate at work, at home and in their everyday lives, Luepnitz said.

Speakers noted there are right and wrong ways to help domestic violence victims. Some ways might appear to be thoughtful but could have damaging side effects if the victim isn’t on board. For example, calling the police against a victim’s will can backfire, according to a video shown by Jennifer Revels, a human resources consultant.

In the video example, a manager told her employee that she was glad the employee left her abuser. Managers should avoid that kind of judgment because victims often return to their abusers.

Such judgment could cause a victim to feel shame about talking to a manager about the situation again, speakers said.

“Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work,” said Martha Pearson Peich, YWCA Rock County’s transitions director. “Be that person who people aren’t afraid to come back to.”

Revels said she encourages managers and supervisors to do four things when interacting with domestic violence victims:

  • Say you are concerned and you support the victim.
  • Say you will keep things in the strictest confidence.
  • Encourage the victim to seek an advocate who works with domestic violence victims.
  • Say you are there for the victim when the problem affects his or her work.

When managers are clued in to the problem, they can accommodate victims by changing schedules, responsibilities or even parking spaces—such as offering ones with more lighting.

Drafting a formal safety plan is also important, speakers said.

Employers can prevent violent acts by giving the community the opportunity to say something, said Chad Sullivan, a crime prevention officer for the Janesville Police Department.

Every business should have one designated person who handles domestic violence information, Pearson Peich said.

“Show the workforce that you are open to these conversations,” she said.

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