Paul R. Charron

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Nine in 10 senior executives from Fortune 1,000 companies believe that domestic violence affects both the private lives and working lives of employees, but only 12 percent of them are willing to do anything about it, according to a recent study supported by Liz Claiborne, Inc.

Although companies nationwide are losing between an estimated $3 billion and $5 billion a year from decreased productivity and employee absenteeism as a result of domestic violence, employers are still reluctant to take action against what has traditionally been regarded as a social problem, the study indicated.

“America’s corporate leaders understand the prevalence of domestic violence,” says Paul R. Charron, chairman and chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne, Inc. “They understand the bottom-line impact of domestic violence. In fact, more than half personally know people in their companies who have been affected by domestic violence. And yet they still think it is someone else’s responsibility to deal with it.”

Two-thirds of surveyed executives put domestic violence on par with terrorism as an important social issue, but they believe that the family should be the main institution responsible for addressing the issue since most of the violence occurs in the home. An AFL-CIO study, however, found that batterers commit 13,000 violent acts against their partners in the workplace each year, posing serious threats to the safety of co-workers in the workplace environment.

Kathryn Kaiser knows firsthand how violence in her personal life affected her professional performance. Two years ago the man she was seeing beat her so severely that she still suffers residual effects from her brain injuries, often hearing noise crackles in her head and feeling her brain move within her skull. She took time off from her position as an administrator and shareholder services analyst for PNM Resources, the largest utility in New Mexico, to prosecute her attacker. He was found not guilty in court.

“My family and the criminal justice system disappointed me. The same cannot be said of my employer,” says Kaiser. She was given four months of disability and then worked half days for two months after that. “During that time, my manager stayed in contact with me, giving me support by providing positive feedback. That was important, because given the frame of mind I was in at the time, I felt no one cared or understood what happened to me.”

Kaiser’s employer made extra efforts to create a safe work environment, including working with the human resource department to add extra security, assign a new phone number and move her parking spot into a covered lot adjacent to the building. Even with these precautions her attacker was still able to make threatening phone calls and stalk her at work using his company car.

“I have met with my CEO explained to him that domestic violence does affect the workplace,” Kaiser says. “Ever since my brutal crime other employees have contacted me because either they are in an abusive relationship or someone they know is. I told him that victims will probably not come forward, but if domestic violence training started from him and his senior management, then worked its way down they would be able to recognize the signs before it becomes fatal.”

One organization that is trying to address the problem is the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. The alliance brings together dozens of progressive companies across the United States to exchange information, collaborate on projects and use their collective influence to instigate change. Members such as Liz Claiborne, Inc. and Altria Group, Inc., formerly known as Philip Morris Companies Inc., have instituted programs to increase awareness about domestic violence within their own ranks as well as support nationwide initiatives in communities where they have a strong business presence.

Doors of Hope Opening for

The Liz Claiborne study, which was based on telephone interviews with 100 senior executives in randomly selected Fortune 1,000 companies, marks the latest research in the company’s 11-year domestic violence awareness campaign.

According to its Web site, Liz Claiborne, Inc. started the Women Work program in October 1991 “as a way to give something of value back to the people who have made the company a success over the years.” The program includes public service announcements, T-shirts, free posters, brochures and handbooks, fundraising and the forging of partnerships with local retailers and community groups to increase awareness about domestic violence in the workplace.

Altria followed suit with its Campaign against Domestic Violence, which operates on a two-front attack to educate and treat victims. Booklets containing information and advice about where to get help can be found in every corporate office throughout the United States in hopes of reaching some 57,000 employees. Altria intends to expand the program to the almost 80,000 people working overseas in 18 countries.

“The [Altria] family of companies recognizes that corporate America has a responsibility–and a unique ability–to help address the problem of domestic violence, and the company is committed to doing its part to raise awareness and help find solutions,” according to Altria’s program material.

In addition to the in-house prevention materials, Altria Group, Inc. started the Doors of Hope program, a philanthropic organization to support domestic violence initiatives in communities where the company holds a viable business interest. Since the program’s inception in 1998, Doors of Hope has given away more than $6 million to local shelters and domestic violence programs in communities across the country.

The 2002 grantees reflect the breadth of domestic violence issues, embracing everything from legal services to shelter expansions to child protection personnel. Some of the year’s recipients include: Washington-based Ayuda Inc., which provides legal services to Hispanic victims of domestic violence; Houston Area Women’s Center shelter, which works with a local arts school to provide art-based therapy along with legal advice to battered women; La Casa de Las Madres, San Francisco’s oldest and largest shelter for women and children; and The New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is adding site supervisors and security to expand its hours of operation, as well as adding Asian-language interpreters to reach a broader section of battered women.

“At [Altria] we take a comprehensive approach to preventing domestic violence,” says spokeswoman Laurie Guzzianti. “The Doors of Hope campaign is the grant-making aspect. We also work with local community groups to educate both employees and others in the community, as well as other employers, about the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.” She added said Altria works with the National Domestic Violence Hotline in Texas and the corporate alliance.

Altria has initiated a number of corporate programs for domestic violence victims, from instituting a clothing drive for the families of battered women to launching a “fix-up” initiative to revamp area women’s shelters. And in 1996, Altria organized the first Annual Corporate Conference on Domestic Violence, which has since turned into a national event.

From Corporate America to Capitol Hill

While these companies are trying to change things at a corporate level, politicians are addressing work-related issues connected to domestic violence on the political stage.

Before Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash, he introduced the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act to the Senate in July 2001. Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California introduced the same bill to the House.

“A lot of people are more fiercely dedicated to the cause in recognition of Paul Wellstone and his family’s commitment to it,” said Geoff Boehm, a NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund staff attorney who was active in the drafting of the bill. “There is greater commitment among advocates. The outpouring of grief is giving us an opportunity to continue the vision that he and his wife had.”

The Wellstone bill is bipartisan and would protect the employment and economic security of domestic abuse victims. It entitles eligible employees–including welfare-to-work participants–to take up to 30 days of unpaid leave to deal with a domestic violence situation. The bill forbids employers from removing health benefits or demoting the employee during this time and even mandates employers to keep the reason for the absence strictly confidential.

“There are bills that say domestic violence is a crime; this isn’t that bill,” Boehm said. “I think it would really empower survivors of domestic violence to take the steps they need to stay safe and open lines of communication with employers. Many victims are afraid they will get fired if they tell that they are victims of domestic violence.”

For most domestic abuse victims, steady employment is an essential key to developing economic self-sufficiency and eventually complete autonomy from a batterer. However, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that one-quarter to one-half of victims surveyed lost a job–at least in part–due to domestic violence.

“This creates a dangerous cycle. Without the financial security offered by a paycheck and unemployment benefits, battered women are often left dependent on the abuser,” Roybal-Allard said in a floor statement supporting the bill. “This is wrong, costly and dangerous.”

When Congress adjourned last session, the bill had been read twice and referred to the Senate Finance Committee and a House subcommittee.

Julie Leupold is a freelance writer in New York.

For more information:

Liz Claiborne–love is not abuse:

Altria–domestic violence:

Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence:

For more information:

The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
–Supervised Visitation:

Child Visitations Offer Opportunities for Domestic Violence

NEW YORK (WOMENSNEWS)–The threat of violence for a battered woman often increases after she escapes the abusive relationship.

In many cases of domestic violence, abusive husbands or boyfriends use court-mandated visitation rights or child-exchanging times to verbally or physically harass both the child and the woman, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence. The organization reports that 5 percent of abusive fathers threaten during visitation to kill the mother, 34 percent threaten to kidnap their children, and 25 percent threaten to hurt their children.

Moreover, sufficient resources or trained personnel do not exist to ensure battered women’s safety by keeping all visitations supervised. A recent unpublished study by the New York City Interagency Task Force on Domestic Violence reported that the eight programs currently serving New York only have the capacity to help 175 families at one time, leaving hundreds of needy families on waiting lists.

The world’s oldest child-protection agency, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children founded in 1875, just eliminated its 60-family waiting list after a $50,000 grant from the Altria Group’s Doors of Hope campaign.

“It is a first-year grantee in a new category that is very competitive,” says Altria spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati.

Altria awarded the two-year grant in the area of child services to provide salaries for additional site supervisors and security guards to extend the hours available to eligible families. The agency provides a neutral site for the safe transfer of children when there are legal restrictions such as restraining orders placed on contact between the parents. A visitation supervisor is present only at the arrival and departure of the adults.

In addition to the extra hours of operation, this grant will fund an Asian-language interpreter to extend help to a greater cross-section of the community, Guzzinati said.

— Julie Leupold