Dovie Yoana King is an adjunct professor at Miramar College and a Contributing Labor Writer to Law@theMargins. She is also an experienced public interest lawyer, victim’s rights advocate and survivor. Dovie regularly volunteers at a domestic violence restraining order clinic. She is a member of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For those of us who regularly work to empower victims and survivors, and hold abusers accountable, it is an opportunity to reflect, educate and take national action to end violence. In particular, we endeavor to raise awareness about the many forms in which intimate partner abuse affects American lives because it is not defined by physical violence alone and may entail emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, intimidation, threats, religious or spiritual abuse and psychological abuse, among other forms of abuse. Further, we acknowledge that intimate partner violence knows no boundaries and affects individuals regardless of economic situation, race, religion, age, education, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. It is specifically a pattern of behavior which includes isolation and coercive and controlling acts by one intimate partner against another.
Though intimate partner violence has long been recognized as occurring in private homes, more can be done to raise awareness about the impact of domestic abuse in the workplace. Typically, workplace abuse occurs when an employee is harassed or intimidated by his or her intimate partner at work, is physically hurt, sexually assaulted or stalked on work premises, forced to miss work due to injuries, or less productive on the job due to severe stress and anxiety stemming from the abuse. Moreover, victims of abuse may face re-victimization by their employers, who take discriminatory and retaliatory actions against employees based on their sex or status as domestic violence victims. This may result in termination, demotion or other negative employment consequences.
Recent statistics indicate workplace abuse is a serious problem that has not been adequately addressed by our legal system, and more must be done in order to eradicate the problem. For example, according to Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource Center Project funded by the U.S Department of Justice on Violence Against Women,
- 21 percent of full-time employees involved in a survey self-identified as victims of intimate partner violence;
- victims of domestic violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full time jobs lost each year;
- between 21-60% of victims of domestic violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse;
- nearly 33% of women killed in U.S. workplaces between 2003-2008 were killed by a current or former intimate partner; and
- more than 70 percent of U.S. workplaces do not have a formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence.
Fortunately, there has been a trend by states to enact greater measures to protect the workplace rights of victims. One example is the 2014 California law which requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to ensure the “safety of the victim while at work.” Another is New York’s law which recognizes victims of domestic violence as a group protected from employment discrimination. For a comprehensive listing of state laws protecting the workplace rights of victims, please visit Legal Momentum: Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund website.
As a final thought, Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides a unique opportunity to reflect upon how we can end the hurt at work by educating ourselves and collaborating to end intimate partner abuse. Together we can say “no more” to intimate partner abuse and reaffirm the right of every person to live free from abuse as a basic human right.