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Sil Lai's Story: Giving Victims a Voice
By all accounts, Sil Lai was an ideal employee. She worked hard at her job, providing administrative support for three vice presidents at an international investment bank. She lived with her two young children and her boyfriend, a handsome fashion model who was the father of her youngest child. Other employees noticed the assortment of family photos she proudly displayed on her desk, and commented often on her beautiful young family.
Unknown to those around her, her happy home was an illusion. Her boyfriend verbally abused her daily and cut her off from her friends. She thought if they were able to get help that he would change, so they went to couples counseling, but it didn't work. His emotional violence escalated and he beat her several times, once while pregnant with their child. "I was terrified of being alone and raising my children without a father in the home," she said. "I just wanted a 'normal' life."
When his modeling assignments stopped, her boyfriend refused to get a job. Sil Lai struggled to make ends meet, stretching her small secretary's salary to provide for their family of four. Finally, after being out of work for a year, her boyfriend took a job in the mailroom of the bank she worked at. Things looked like they were getting better. But they didn't.
Now that they worked at the same company, he started exerting control there as well. Her work began to suffer more and more as her relationship spiraled further and further into violence and chaos. On occasion Sil Lai would call in sick, too emotionally frazzled to concentrate on her work. After three or four of these "sick days," her supervisor started to suspect that something was wrong. Yet even after coming to work with bruises around her neck from her boyfriend's attack the previous day, Sil Lai found it difficult to speak up. "I was ashamed of my situation and didn't want to risk losing my bosses' respect. I thought I would lose my job if they knew what was going on."
Eventually, once her boyfriend began menacing her on the phone at work, Sil Lai opened up about what was happening at home. "My supervisor reported him to the security department. And that's when things really got crazy."
Her boyfriend was fired from his job in the mailroom, and he threatened to kill her. Sil Lai got help from Safe Horizon (then called Victim Services Agency) and was able to successfully move on and rebuild her life. Today she works with Safe Horizon to educate corporations on how to recognize the signs of domestic violence. "I am fortunate to have had a supervisor who was supportive and didn't judge me because of what my boyfriend was doing. If she had reacted differently... if I had lost my job because he was a threat to my coworkers, I would have ended up battered and homeless."
Through SafeWork, corporations can learn how to help the victims of domestic violence in their midst.
* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.