Abused women find safety at work
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:08AM
Nearly 5.3 million intimate partner victimizations occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate this violence results in 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths annually.
While these statistics are alarming, some researchers believe the numbers of abused might be higher because of the underreporting of intimate partner violence by female victims.
Intimate partner victimization doesn’t only impact a victim’s emotional and physical health, but it can also affects her work life and career.
Abusers will often attempt to sabotage their partner’s attempts at seeking or maintaining employment, therefore limiting financial resources and leaving their victim more likely to be isolated or unemployed. Unable to find employment or work with adequate pay, some women choose to stay in abusive situations rather than go on public assistance or become homeless.
Another group to consider when addressing abuse and the workplace are women in high-wage, high-status positions. Women in this group are often “hidden victims,” as they are viewed as having enough education, money and resources to extricate themselves from the abuse. This common belief and the stigma associated with intimate partner victimizations leaves many high-wage, high-status women who do not report the abuse, use employee benefits or take a leave of absence.
Women employed in high-wage, high-status positions want to be seen as competent, professional and in control — not vulnerable, weak and unable to handle personal situations if they seek help for intimate partner violence.
What can be done to address this physical and emotional safety issue in the workplace? First, it is important to know that many states have laws to protect employees. The Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act was passed in Illinois in August 2003. It allows victims of abuse to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period without demotion, firing or discontinuation of health benefits.
The act provides protection from employers who discriminate against victims of domestic violence who need to receive medical attention or counseling for injuries or psychological trauma. The act also allows them the opportunity to seek legal assistance or victim services, participate in a related court proceeding or relocate.
Having a supportive workplace can provide an invaluable sanctuary in which an abused employee can begin the healing process and take actions to change her situation. Not only does the workplace have the potential to be a lifeline for an abused employee, but it can be the safe haven in which an abused employee suffering from poor self esteem and a lack of confidence can begin a journey of personal growth, ultimately leading to a more productive employee.
Sarah Katula is doctor of philosophy, clinical nurse specialist in the Behavioral Health Department at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital.