Domestic Violence Statistics and Your Workplace
Proactive Strategies for Promoting a Safe and Respectful Workplace
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By Heidi Hankwitz
Studies indicate that between one–fifth and one–third of women have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime (Collins, Schoen, Joseph, Duchon, Simantov, & Yellowitz, 1999; U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).
Other studies indicate that typical adults spend between one–fifth and one–third of their time at work (U.S. Department of Labor, 2004).
Given the prevalence of domestic violence and the reality that most adults spend a significant amount of time at work, we can surmise that this known risk area cannot be overlooked on the job.
It’s an issue
The fact of the matter is that domestic violence causes more harm to individuals than auto accidents, rape, and muggings…combined (Alpert, Freund, Park, Patel, & Sovak, 1998). Each year, more than two million victims report being physically or sexually assaulted or stalked by an intimate partner in the United States (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Despite the fear of strangers in dark alleys or of burglars, we are far more likely to be killed by a current or former partner (Violence Policy Center, 2002). And research is not the only way to determine the widespread nature of domestic violence; most of us personally know of at least one case in which someone lives or has lived in fear of a partner.
Victims come from a mixed range of backgrounds, as do abusers. Studies indicate that domestic violence happens to a wide variety of individuals, regardless of socioeconomic and education levels, age, race, sexual orientation, or religion (Lee, 2005). Domestic violence does not stem from lack of income, education, resources, or a good upbringing, but from the abuser’s need to control the victim.
The decision to abuse and assault is the abuser’s choice to make. It is up to individuals to control their behavior. Whatever the reason abusers choose for their behavior, the simple answer is that there is no excuse for assaulting a partner. In fact, victims very often do all they can to appease the abuser and prevent a hostile reaction.
How does this affect your workplace?
Despite recent increased attention to employee aggression and violence in the workplace, analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey data shows that employees are nearly as likely to be assaulted by a partner at work as by a coworker, and female employees killed in the workplace are more likely to be killed by a partner than by a coworker (Warchol, 1998).
The abuse that victims face at home does not happen “in a vacuum,” and therefore the effects certainly follow victims into the workplace. As many as 75% of domestic violence victims face harassment from intimate partners while they are at work (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1998). In addition, as many as 96% experience problems at work due to abuse, 56% are late to work, 28% leave work early, and 54% miss entire days of work (American Institute on Domestic Violence, 2001).
Although difficult to quantify, several studies indicate that victims’ productivity, due to lack of concentration, is compromised due to their victimization. Lack of concentration may result from before-work situations, in person and phone harassment, and pervasive fear of the abuser, as well as depression resulting from the abuse (Swanberg, Logan, & Macke, 2006).
Absenteeism is not difficult to quantify and therefore is a clear indicator of how domestic violence reduces workplace production. As many as 85% of victims report being absent from work due to the abuse. Absence from work is often related to injuries, shame, depression, fearing for one’s own or one’s children’s safety, fatigue, and/or the need to attend appointments with doctors, lawyers, or law enforcement for issues related to the abuse. The abuser may also be directly prohibiting the victim from going to work (Swanberg, Logan, & Macke, 2006).
Victims also experience a higher rate of tardiness. One study indicates that almost two–thirds of victims reported late to work because of abusers’ before–work tactics. Other studies indicate that between 50% and 60% of victims reported being late for work or leaving work early due to domestic violence issues (Swanberg, Logan, & Macke, 2006).
Several studies indicate that as many as 27% of victims reported a job loss as a direct result of domestic violence, with one study reporting that 91% of victims had resigned or lost a job in the last year as a direct result of violence at home (Swanberg, Logan, & Macke, 2006).
Cost to organizations
Organizations pay a price for victims’ lower productivity rates and higher absenteeism, tardiness, and job loss rates. Lowered individual productivity rates result in lowered quality and quantity of productivity of the company as a whole. In terms of the company’s medical–related costs, higher employee benefit costs, increased insurance premiums, and increased sick leave expenses are often the consequences of domestic violence (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1999). In fact, one study found that $1,775 more is spent on each victim of domestic violence annually (Wisner, Gilmer, Saltman, & Zink, 1999).
The abuser’s role in workplace disruption
Exerting control over victim’s employment is a form of harassment used by batterers to intimidate their partners. Although exact tactics are somewhat varied, they can be grouped into two categories: work disruption and work–related stalking. Work disruption is anything that prevents the victim from getting to work on time or at all, and typically takes place at home or outside the workplace. One national study indicates that abusers typically disrupt by depriving the victim of sleep, refusing to assist with child care, physically injuring the victim before work, turning off the alarm clock, or creating an embarrassing situation at the victim’s work. Work–related stalking includes following a person, coming to the victim’s workplace unannounced, looking into the window of the workplace, waiting for the victim at the end of the workday, as well as telephone calls and emails to the victim. It’s important to consider the workplace as a constant factor in the victim’s life. Although victims may change their residence, their work location and work schedule often remain the same (Swanberg, Logan, & Macke, 2006).
The very word “domestic” refers to personal affairs, something that occurs and stays at home. This stigma of domestic violence being a personal issue often inhibits victims from disclosing their situation with family and friends, as well as at work. There are several valid reasons for this that shouldn’t be ignored.
First, we must remind ourselves that, while victims of domestic violence want the abuse to end, they often do not want the relationship to end. They remember being courted, falling in love, and in general, happy memories with their partners. They also might not feel confident enough to survive without their abusers, their worth stunted after being placed under their abusers’ control over time. In addition, the abuser’s control may have extended to the victim’s inability to acquire the proper job skills, finances, and/or support systems necessary to take action. In extreme cases, the abuser may have threatened to take physical action against not only the victim, but any children involved, as well as those dear to the victim, if the victim takes action against the abuse or leaves the abuser.
A recent study (Swanberg & Logan, 2005) found that employed victims had significant concerns about the reactions and subsequent actions taken by their employer if they disclosed their experience of victimization. In fact, only 46% of this study’s respondents reported informing supervisors or managers, and only 43% informed a co–worker of their victimization. Those who informed did so for safety reasons, the need for time off, and/or the need to explain previous absences. In contrast, 54% of respondents opted not to tell someone at work because of fear of job loss, sense of shame about the situation, and/or the perceived ability of the victim to handle the situation (American Institute on Domestic Violence, 2001).
A 2001 study suggests further reasons why victims may be reluctant to come forward to someone at work about their abusive situation. The study found that victims may fear that the batterer may seek retribution for disclosing sensitive information to someone at work, and also that victims may want to protect their partner/former partner from harm or any form of punishment that could occur should the violence be officially reported. Furthermore, this study found that victims of domestic violence might be embarrassed to disclose the situation due to the stigma associated with partner violence or because of concerns that the employer may not be responsive to the problems surrounding the situation (Lemon, 2001).
Ninety–four percent of security directors from over 200 major companies nationwide rank domestic violence spilling into the workplace as a major safety and security concern (American Institute on Domestic Violence, 2001). Seventy–one percent of human resource and security personnel surveyed in one study have had at least one incident of domestic violence occur on company property (Isaac, 1997). However, as startling as it may seem, there are employers who do not believe that it is their place to deal with issues surrounding domestic violence. Given the fact that employees are an organization’s greatest assets, we must also be aware that employees’ health, safety and security leads to greater productivity, in turn, increasing the productivity of the organization as a whole. It is up to each and every one of us to take the opportunity to challenge the stigmas surrounding domestic violence spilling into the workplace.
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