Intimate Partner Violence - A Dangerous Little Secret

October 28, 2003

adam

According to the statistics provided by Womanshelter/Compañeras in Holyoke, intimate partner violence (IPV) costs business between $3-5 billion annually in diminished productivity and increased health cost, absenteeism and employee turnover. 96% of employees who were victims reported some type of workplace problem as a direct result of the abuse inflicted by their intimate partners. Victims are regularly stalked and harassed at work, have their paychecks stolen, their bank accounts stripped, and their work performance, potential and reputations sabotaged by their abusers. Since one in every four women are at some time during their lives a victim of some form of IPV, it is likely that we all are in contact with a victim at one point or another in our workplace. Help is available, and it is important to look for the signs and make one simple phone call, which could result as a life-saving gesture.

Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, is a non-discriminatory issue woven into all races, ages and socio-economic statuses. The term, domestic violence implies a problem contained within a traditional family unit, but the contemporary reality is that anyone with an intimate relationship is a potential victim. In fact 30% of IPV victims are from the middle-income bracket. According to Karen Boyle Cavanaugh, Executive Director of Womanshelter/Compañeras, "All batterers seem to go to the same school." She adds that the mostly female victims usually have a preconceived notion of what a victim looks like, and that is not what they see when they look in the mirror. They believe that there is a stigma attached to admitting victimization, and they wish to avoid the embarrassment and humiliation of publicly admitting what they believe to be a personal failure. Cavanaugh also states that these women fear that their employers will judge them to be less competent if they admit that their home life has spiraled into such a dangerous disaster. Embarrassment and fear of losing the one thing that makes them feel good about themselves tends to lead to silence.

IPV is the often the result of an extreme compulsion to control another person. Abusers want to control everything about their victims, including friends, activities and finances. The resulting isolation of IPV victims leads to deeper feelings of desolation and fear, and the lack of control over their own financial well being causes dependence upon abusers. Even women with good jobs fear destitution as the result of leaving the person who controls household finances. Cavanaugh said that interestingly many of the women who come to shelters in poverty were formerly living a comfortable lifestyle. Once the choice was made to leave one nightmare, their potential fears were realized as their partners withheld child support, and/or allowed their homes to go into foreclosure

Employers and co-workers may have the greatest potential of anyone in an IPV victim's life of spotting the problem and becoming the catalyst for change. When you think about it, we spend the greatest majority of our productive waking hours at work, with the same group of people day in and day out. Cavanaugh says that a woman who is normally reliable, productive and focused, who suddenly becomes distracted or withdrawn, could need help. A woman who suddenly takes a lot of sick time, out of character, may have a greater issue brewing. Remember the statistic; one in four women are subject to some form of IPV in their lifetimes. It is inevitable that we come into contact with at least one of them at some point in our own lives. But what can we do if we suspect trouble?

Womanshelter/Compañeras offers workplace awareness training to any company that requests it. In fact, according to Cavanaugh, "Rarely do we go into a company to do a presentation when at least one person doesn't take a presenter aside to talk about their own problem or the suspected problem of another." Workplace counseling may go even deeper than that however, as employer training can also involve learning how to handle an intervention with a suspected IPV victim and also the creation of a safe and supportive environment in which the victim can heal. Suggestions can be made about revising her work hours or altering her work location, so that her abuser cannot easily find her. For many victims, employer intervention is their strongest hope of getting out of their desperate situation. Without employers' help victims often loose their jobs, and thus their income resources, which can result in poverty, according to Cavanaugh. On the employer side, the loss of this employee results in down time, as a replacement is identified and trained. It is generally more economical to keep an existing good employee.

All women's shelters offer suggestions to victims about what to do to stay as safe as possible. They provide advice about what to do in an emergency, such as setting up a code word with a trusted neighbor or friend that will signal a need to call the police. Shelters provide housing and childcare options in a safe environment. They also provide information about potentially the most dangerous time in an IPV relationship, when the victim actually leaves.

The time immediately following a victim's departure from her abusive situation is the time when the abuser realizes that he has lost his control. This is when he will often come after her with a rage that may be unequal to anything that she has experienced before. This is also when shelters and employers become instrumental to a victim's safety. If the abuser cannot find his victim he cannot inflict his wrath on her. Cavanaugh says that counselors can help the employer find ways to keep the woman safe during this critical time. Unfortunately, although restraining orders are the best legal tool in society's arsenal to prevent further violence, they are sadly inadequate at a time when women are most vulnerable, due to fury at it's peak. Our courts can punish batterers for violations of restraining orders after the fact, but during an actual assault, this piece of paper affords no protection.

One further important and often unknown fact is that women who must leave their jobs due to intimate partner violence usually qualify for unemployment compensation. This is a qualifying factor, although certain criteria must be met. Cavanaugh says that the criteria are reasonable, and the State generally does not disqualify a woman in need.

Additionally, according to Cavanaugh, 2/3 of abusers eventually batter kids in the home in addition to their intimate partners. She says that this is usually the trigger for even the most resilient victim of IPV to leave. It is important that battered women know this ahead of time, so they have the opportunity to leave the abusive situation before the escalation of violence reaches their children.

Although it is an attractive option to not meddle in others' business, employers and co-workers are in a position to assist a woman who is desperate for help. Intimate partner violence victims are embarrassed and terrified while feeling extremely isolated. Reaching out to people who can bring help to a woman in need is not only the humane thing to do, but it can also cut down on that estimated $3-5 billion annually lost in diminished productivity and increased health cost, absenteeism and employee turnover.

For more information or for an intimate partner violence training session for your employees, please contact Carmen Nieves, Community Educator at Womanshelter/Compañeras. For help or advice, call the Crisis/Support line at (413)536-1628.

One Courageous Survivor

Candace Quinn is now the VP Strategic Communications & Marketing Group for Baystate Health System, however 25 years ago she was a victim of intimate partner violence. Married at 19 to a doctor, with two children born within the next few years, Candace had a life that appeared near perfect. They had recently moved into a new home, and Candace had recently given birth to their second child, when her husband suddenly became abusive. As time went by his anger grew, and the physical violence escalated. After one particularly violent outburst, Candace realized that she had to get out. She packed the kids in the car, all three of them in pajamas, and she drove to nearby family for refuge.

When she arrived and told her carefully concealed horror story, her family was in disbelief. Their daughter/sister lived a fairy tale life, not the one that they were hearing. Her own brother even said, "How can you do this to me, taking away my only brother?" Her brother actually became Candace's most protective advocate however, after the first time that he experienced the verbal abuse that Candace later suffered for years throughout seemingly endless court appearances, and he was by her side every time she had to face her ex-husband again.

Candace endured the violence at home because she felt that she was a failure. Her husband told her that she was inadequate, and she believed that she deserved the physical violence as punishment for her failings. She kept thinking that it would get better and return to the way things were before.

The night that she left, she took only the kids and her car. She was uneducated, with no financial resources, and she would soon encounter an unsupportive legal system. She lived with her folks for one month and took a job working 100 hours per week in a deli to save enough money to rent an apartment. Her family couldn't offer financial support, and they helped as much as they could with the kids, but ultimately Candace was on her own. At that time, she barely made enough money to cover the rent and childcare.

After about 6 months she got a job as a real estate broker. This turning point gave Candace back her sense of who she was and provided an opportunity to make a living. Her supportive boss allowed her to work a flexible schedule, so she took the opportunity to apply for scholarships and student loans that helped put her through school. She earned her bachelors degree Cum Laude while working full time and being a full time mom. Additional scholarships allowed her to pursue a graduate degree in management, which she earned while graduating in the top 20% of her class. By this time the kids were in elementary school and she also had them in pre and after school programs. These were tough times for Candace, as she stretched herself as far as she possibly could for the opportunity to build a better life for her family.

Graduate School internships opened a few doors, and she was appointed the Director of Marketing for a hospital while still in school. The management of the hospital knew her history and allowed her to work 30 hours per week at her convenience, while attending school full time. From that point her career took off.

Candace stresses the importance of supportive employers. The first five years after she found the courage to leave her husband were extremely difficult, but she was lucky enough to find situations in which she worked for people who allowed her the support and flexibility to do whatever it took to patch up her life and move forward.

Today she is a proud mother of a son who is a chiropractor and a daughter who teaches in the Springfield School System. She is also a new grandmother, and is married to a wonderful man who would never hurt her. She admits freely however, that any time things get tense at home she tends to ball up into her little defensive shell, as old habits die hard. Ultimately, Candace found the courage to leave horror behind and build a new life. She worked hard and accomplished personal and professional successes that are enviable by any standard. Candace Quinn is a remarkable survivor.

Adam J. Basch, Esquire is an associate with Bacon & Wilson, P.C., in their litigation department. His practice of focused on construction and breach of contract litigation as well as creditor representation. He can be reached at 413-781-0560 or abasch@bacon-wilson.com

by: Adam J. Basch, Esq.