Domestic Violence

(WOMENSENEWS)– The stories are alarming. Women receive incessant calls and texts from partners "checking up" on them at work. Perpetrators show up at workplaces unexpectedly, sometimes causing incidents, leading to warnings or discipline from supervisors for the targeted worker.

One woman, whom I’ll call Linda, was stabbed by her partner before she left for work one day, following several telltale signs that she was being threatened. Concerned about what missing a shift would mean for her job, she called a co-worker from her bed in the emergency room to get it covered and to let her supervisor know she would be missing work. When Linda returned to her job two days later, her supervisor fired her for being "unreliable" and letting personal issues interfere with work.

Incidents like Linda’s happen all the time. The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence found that 2-in-5 survey respondents who identified as victims of violence feared their abusers would unexpectedly visit their work. And a 2005 study of female employees in Maine who experienced domestic violence found that 87 percent of survivors received harassing phone calls at work and 60 percent lost their jobs due to domestic violence.

Numerous surveys have found that domestic violence is the most frequently cited–if not primary cause–of homelessness among women, which is why gainful employment and policies like paid sick days are so critical to keeping survivors and their families from being trapped in poverty and homelessness. Financial security and independence is crucial for victims of violence to be able to leave a dangerous environment; a 2012 survey of victims of abuse found that 74 percent stayed with an abuser longer than they wanted for economic reasons. We need to implement practices and policies that help ensure those experiencing domestic violence don’t fall into poverty; doing so means possibly handing them the tools they need to rebuild their lives.

The tentacles of domestic violence reach into every aspect of our society and culture with devastating impacts for women, who account for over 80 percent of victims. Beyond the clear threat of physical danger, domestic violence keeps tens of thousands–if not millions–of women and families living in poverty.

There are concrete steps we can take to address domestic violence and its cost to victims and our society.

Almost 5 million women in the U.S. experience domestic violence every year, and the impacts reach every aspect of survivors’ lives. Victims can be left without any income to pay medical bills and rent, let alone afford legal action against the perpetrators. The National Institute of Justice has found that the aggregate annual cost to victims of domestic violence is roughly $8.8 billion dollars, though that number swells to $67 billion when factoring in pain, suffering and lost quality of life.

Beyond the immediate expenses of medical care and legal assistance, domestic violence threatens many survivors’ job security. Survivors of domestic violence often suffer from gaps in employment as a result of needing to relocate, taking extended time off to heal, or being fired from jobs due to the actions of perpetrators who stalk, harass or threaten victims while at the workplace. Because so many victims can’t afford to take unpaid time off of work–and so many jobs don’t offer paid leave–they’re either forced to return to their jobs without the chance to recover or take actions that might help keep them safe or they’re fired for taking the time–unpaid!–that they needed.

Let’s recognize the commonsense solutions that are available to help victims. Small steps can help them gain or keep their economic security, which can make a huge difference in staying safe and rebuilding lives. We have the power to make women and children safer and help lift tens of thousands of families out of poverty–let’s use it.

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