We’ll never know how many victims do the best they can at work or anywhere else, even with domestic violence woven through every part of their lives.
But what’s clear from national headlines and our local experience is that a batterer’s violence doesn’t always stay home when victims leave the house. Each of us actually has the issue woven through our lives, whether visibly or not.
Here in the U.S., one in five employed adults is the victim of domestic violence, and 74 percent of employed battered women say they’re harassed by their partners while at work.
In fact, in a recent national survey, 44 percent of all employees reported that their workplace was impacted by domestic violence, mostly because a coworker was a victim.
But it’s important to realize the full scope of a workplace connection — including that perpetrators, too, might also be colleagues. Another recent study found that over 75 percent of perpetrators used their own employer’s resources and time to continue harassing or threatening behavior.
So aside from being a critical social issue, for businesses it’s a financial issue, too — regardless of which partner they’ve employed.
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Because batterers tend to be insecure and extremely controlling, they might go to great lengths to check up on, stalk, or scare a victim.
Or they might even sabotage her chance for some workday independence. Beyond direct contact, a batterer might include disabling a victim’s car, hiding her keys, making her late, or ultimately forbidding her to work at an outside job.
Most disturbing is that in a 2011 Vermont study, offenders themselves reported that their partners had to take an average of 20 days off per year due to outright violence, and at least four domestic violence homicides in Vermont have occurred in connection with the victim’s job.
Clearly, anyone employed anywhere has a stake in raising this topic and raising our collective bar on safety.
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Yet as sobering as these statistics are, they shed light on enormous potential, too.
To the extent that we’re all touched by domestic violence, we have many places to impact it in return: to model gender equity and respect and to help shape the norms that affect everyone in the room.
Places of work and worship, as well as clubs and teams, can offer us all portals to ongoing education and ideas, and they can be influential as a reality check from the wider community.
Whether it’s through a discreet one-on-one conversation, or an organized group training, we can all inspire social change.
Domestic violence can certainly wreak havoc on a victim’s attendance and performance, and not all employers are supportive or informed about the issue, or even their own legal obligations.
Still, it’s promising that we do hear from women who first confided their story not to family or to us, but to the coworkers and employers they see every day, and whom they have learned to trust, or to the pastor or sponsor who seemed especially alert and approachable on this topic. People who offered them not just time, compassion, and our hotline number, but also, for those who were ready, maybe their first safe place to make that confidential call.
We get these stories enough to know that proactive community members in that initial role can literally save lives.
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And the same might be true when batterers encounter a workplace culture that proactively addresses the issue, through information and policies, as well as meaningful consequences for violating them.
In the 2011 Vermont study, more than 77 percent of those male offenders felt that workplace policies that addressed domestic abuse would be an effective deterrent to violence.
For employers interested in exploring some resources, the Vermont Attorney General’s website offers samples of model practices. And one project, the Small Business Initiative, which offers additional perspectives at www.safeatworkcoalition.org, was created in 2000 by a group of employers, unions, advocates, and government organizations to educate businesses and to help address what was traditionally seen as a private problem.
Clearly, as advocates, we’re inspired by these concurrent efforts, because their reach is so vast. While offenders are solely responsible for their own behavior, we can all help foster a just and vibrant workplace or civic group that increases safety and solidarity with victims, one that adds a measure of accountability for batterers who no longer coast so easily under the social radar.
Of course, it’s been easier for society to blame women or make them responsible for their own safety rather than for all of us to confront the root problem: patriarchy.
But as statistics around the country bear out, this group silence is risky business for us all, because domestic violence still thrives on it, because it is epidemic, and because victims themselves never really get a day off.