June 19, 2019
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Why employers can’t ignore domestic violence

BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
Purple ribbons at the Spruce Run Woman Care Alliance's second annual Walk to End Abuse in Bangor in October 2013.

We know that domestic violence ends lives and devastates families in Maine and across the country. A new report shows that violence against women also harms our economy, costing the United States nearly $5 billion per year.

As part of an analysis of the pay gap between male and female employees, the McKinsey Global Institute looked at four categories: equality in employment, services and enablers of economic opportunity, political and legal voice, and physical security and autonomy. Its report covered familiar ground about women, even as they work full-time jobs, taking on more responsibility for family and home care and, thus, spending more time away from the workplace, which lowers lifetime earnings.

McKinsey’s analysis of security and autonomy, while not entirely new, brings a new perspective and urgency to the consequences of domestic violence, which disproportionately affects women.

Nearly one-third of American women — more than 39 million women — have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. From this, McKinsey calculated that this violence costs nearly $5 million annually. Most of this cost, 70 percent, represents direct medical costs. The remainder comes from lost productivity and lost earnings over these women’s lifetimes.

“If we were to take into account estimates of the cost of pain, suffering and stunted quality of life, too, the total toll could be some $500 billion,” the report said.

This is a stunning loss that harms the U.S. economy — but more importantly the lives of women and their families.

Domestic violence happens in families of all economic strata, but such incidents are more common in low-income households, especially those headed by single women. More than 95 percent of violent incidents in recent years happened in households with incomes of less than $75,000, McKinsey reported. Research has found that rates of violence in the lowest-income households are five times higher than in those with the highest incomes.

A lack of financial autonomy often causes women to stay in abusive relationships, putting themselves and their children at heightened risk. Homelessness is a big risk for those who do leave because they have been unable to save money for rent and the other costs of beginning life anew. Ninety-two percent of homeless mothers report having experienced physical or sexual assault, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

The economic consequences of domestic violence don’t just stem from those who are abused. Those who commit the abuse are also less productive at work. More than a decade ago, the Maine Department of Labor and Family Crisis Services conducted a groundbreaking study on the workplace impacts of domestic violence offenders by surveying 152 men who had been arrested for domestic violence. It found that more than three-quarters of offenders reported calling their victims from work or using a company vehicle to get to their victim, whether to keep tabs on them, harass them or to apologize. Half of the men who participated in the study said they had trouble concentrating at work because of the domestic violence they had committed, and 19 percent said it led to a workplace accident or near miss.

Many of the men were also absent from work to attend court hearings and, in some cases, serve jail time because of their domestic violence arrests. This further depressed their productivity and earnings.

These studies are an important reminder of the far-reaching consequences of domestic violence. They’re also a reminder that employers have a role to play in fighting domestic violence, whether it’s instituting training so supervisors recognize the signs of domestic violence and sexual assault; offering employees counseling services; implementing strict, anti-domestic violence employee conduct policies; or not shying away from holding perpetrators responsible.

By working with law enforcement, advocates for domestic violence victims and others, employers can send the message that domestic violence and sexual assault will never be tolerated, that victims will receive support and that perpetrators will be held responsible.


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