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Domestic violence (cont.)

By Betsy Morris, senior writer
Last Updated: November 20, 2008: 11:51 AM ET

When she did return to the bank, her face was red and swollen and her teeth had cut the inside of her cheek and her bottom lip was black. Her manager told her "I didn't look so good," she recalls, and asked if she was okay.

"Sure, sure, no problem," she told her, and kept her head down the rest of the day. When she got back to campus that night, her roommate Mary Curry shrieked: "Holy shit, Karen, what happened to your mouth?" She concocted the first of many tales, telling her roommates that she'd been jumped by a mugger on her way home.

A pattern developed: Several months of calm followed by sudden rages, outbreaks that, McGuinness believes, coincided with her successes or her boyfriend's setbacks. Each time she got a promotion, "his insecurity would launch this terrible reaction." Her first boss, she would learn much later, had grown up in an abusive home and discerned her situation right away. Once, when her boyfriend tried to enter the bank, her boss intercepted him and told him he'd have to wait outside.

"You know I don't like him," McGuinness recalls her boss telling her. And: "If you need anything, you can let me know. You can always talk to me."

But McGuinness says she never told anybody, even though her boyfriend would sometimes take her car keys, so she would have to run to get to work on time. When she was on the move, she had to call him from a landline so he'd have a way to verify her location. If she was late getting home, he'd be waiting at the subway to grill her. He would decipher her passwords and check her work messages.

McGuinness became adept at covering up her bruises and her problems. "I never called in sick. When there was something visible on my face, I would do makeup. Or I would lie. Because I always seemed to be moving forward and upward, there was no consistency with the interaction with the same people."

Her first boss didn't let her suspicion about Karen's abusive relationship stand in the way of recommending her for a management training program, and McGuinness's career took off. She became a regional project manager, moving between branches, helping them merge. In 2002 she became a vice president for community relations, working at the bank's Manhattan headquarters. The bank, which had become JPMorgan Chase, put her through the executive MBA program at NYU's Stern School of Business; she got her degree in 2003.

By then she had become a single mother. Her abusive partner was sometimes in, sometimes out of her life, the source of assaults and threats, according to a restraining order she was granted in March 2002 in Superior Court in Hackensack, N.J. The restraining order was granted after the court found "sufficient grounds and exigent circumstances ... that an immediate danger of domestic violence exists" after she filed a complaint saying he'd punched her and made threats. But still she never told anybody at work.

Two years ago Karen McGuinness was recruited away from JPMorgan Chase by Adolfo Carrion Jr., Bronx borough president, to be his chief of staff. Finally she feels able to share her story, which she believes will surprise a lot of people. She says she feels safe from retaliation because her ex-partner has been deported.

"Watch for the signs," she warns young women. "The little things: when somebody is a little too possessive, a little too accusatory - those things do not mean it's because 'he really loves me.'"

Office as sanctuary

The more dedicated Brooke McMurray was to her job as a market researcher here at Fortune, the more threatening the job was to the man she was married to three decades ago, she says.

"My office was here, and his was there," she says, pointing out a window of the Time & Life Building in Manhattan, across 50th Street to the Exxon Building, where he worked on a floor belonging to Morgan Stanley. They were newlyweds at the time, and sometimes he kept a balloon in his window. Her co-workers thought that was cute. They didn't know it was a signal that he was keeping an eye on her.

Her husband was handsome, charming, successful. She was a Smith grad, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. Who would have guessed that at home, according to petitions she later filed seeking an order of protection and then a divorce, she was being beaten and berated on a regular basis?

"I was blamed for bad weather, bad traffic, bad food," she recalls. The flare-ups would be followed by remorse - and flowers. But the first time you are beaten up, McMurray says, "a little piece of you dies."

McMurray's haven was her office. "Fortune became my refuge," she recalls. Often she was so sleep-deprived from late-night arguments that she'd curl up on the floor of her office at lunchtime and take a nap. Beginning in 1974, "I was sort of living on the lam," she recalls, staying sometimes at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, sometimes at her sister's, sometimes at the Harvard Club, carrying her clothes in paper bags.

At the office she eventually moved her desk away from the window. The more independent she got, the more trouble it caused. "He realized this was my sanctuary," she recalls.

He began showing up at her office. To avoid him, she took the freight elevator, she says, and left at night through the loading dock. The only person she believes she told about her troubles was the freight elevator operator. She was afraid that if her bosses or colleagues found out, "I would get fired. I thought it was my fault."

The more obvious it became that McMurray would leave the marriage, the more her husband saw it as "the influence of Fortune," she recalls. In the petition she filed for an order of protection in January 1978, she alleges that he'd tried to prevent her from "entering her place of employment" and pushed her against the wall of the building.

But one of the most terrifying moments of all, she recalls, was not a physical one. It was the night, she says, when she went home and opened her closet door to find that all her work clothes had been cut in half with a pair of scissors. The bottoms of her dresses were lying in a heap on the floor of the closet. She was divorced in 1979.

Now, as chairman of Safe Horizon, a New York nonprofit that provides services for abuse victims, she's pushing hard for an initiative called SafeWork 2010 to get corporations to commit to doing something about domestic violence.

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