By Lisalyn R. Jacobs
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Let's look at what the Democrats' economic equity agenda for women can also do to curb domestic violence. Higher wages mean survivors can more easily break away from an abuser and afford such things as child care.
Credit: ©Helen Pugh Photography, Andrea Pearson on Flickr, under Creative Commons
(WOMENSENEWS)--It's kind of unassuming, really. If you blinked, you might miss it. But if you did, you'd be overlooking the tip of a very large iceberg.
In its February analysis of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2010, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers the following: "Female victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate were significantly more likely than male victims to experience impacts such as fear, concern for their safety, need for medical care, injury, need for housing services and missing at least one day of work or school."
That one sentence goes an incredibly long way toward describing why the economic equity agenda offered by House Democrats, "When Women Succeed . . . Economic Agenda," is vital to sexual and domestic violence survivors.
Two key provisions of this agenda focus on pay issues and according to the 2010 survey, individuals with lower incomes suffer disproportionately from intimate partner violence. (While domestic violence afflicts women of all financial strata, it makes sense that when household resources are scarce conflicts over money are likely to be more common and that it will take longer for a survivor to save enough to leave an abusive relationship.)
The gender pay gap--with women currently earning 77 cents to every dollar a man makes--is well known. It's also well established that both equal pay legislation and raising the minimum wage are vital to closing this gap, which is even wider for women of color. These and related issues will be on the agenda for the White House Summit on Working Families and the regional events that precede it, taking place this spring.
What might be less understood--and timely on the heels of the CDC analysis--is that closing the gap would enable more victims of violence to stabilize their lives. Equal pay and a higher minimum wage will enable survivors to have real economic choices; choices that will lead them and their families to more safety more quickly.
Another set of findings from the CDC survey concerns survivors' need for time off from work. Many survivors report missing at least a day of work or school and a high number indicate a need for legal services stemming from the violence.
Often, survivors must contend with their abusers' attempts to destabilize their employment, whether by inflicting visible injuries or otherwise causing them to miss work unpredictably.
An abuser's goals are to ensure that the survivor remains dependent on him or her, and to make a survivor appear unreliable. Consequently, abusers frequently use jeopardizing a partner's employment as a tactic of ongoing control. If survivor employees were able to take leave for the explicit purpose of meeting with a counselor, attending court or recovering from injuries--without jeopardizing their employment--they would not only be more comfortable about requesting the leave, but also be able to move more efficiently toward stabilizing their lives and that of their families.
Paid sick and safe days are enjoying a good deal of success at the state level. Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington state, among others, are considering bills, and one just took effect in Portland, Ore. But the passage of a federal bill, like the Healthy Families Act (S. 631; H.R. 1286), will ensure that every survivor can have access to this time off when he or she needs it. Put simply: Your safety should not depend on your zip code!
Survivors would also benefit significantly if federal law protected them from being fired simply because they were victims. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act affords this protection to pregnant women. The SAFE Act (H.R. 1229) would make similar protections available to survivors of sexual and domestic violence and stalking.
Like all parents, survivors need quality child care that is safe and affordable. To the extent that a survivor has to rely on an abuser to provide child care, that becomes an additional arena where the abuser is able to exert control by not providing care when scheduled or, in extreme instances, posing a threat to the child.
At a briefing I attended last week, #DVCounts, one brave survivor described how urgent it was that she obtain child care: she'd left her abuser, taken her children and relocated, but in order to finish work on her degree, she desperately needed someone to take care of her kids.
When set against the backdrop of the CDC findings about intimate-partner violence, the Why Women Succeed agenda becomes a key lifeline for survivors, the vast majority of whom are women, and their families.
These women are our family members, our friends, our bosses and our co-workers. The violence survey tells us that 24 percent of women will grapple with this issue at some point in their lifetimes. They deserve our fullest measure of support right now.
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Lisalyn R. Jacobs is vice president of government relations for Legal Momentum where she is the chief lobbyist and policy expert on a variety of issues, including violence against women, poverty and civil rights. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area and is a single mom.
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