Discrimination of Domestic Abuse Victims in the Workplace


There is some sense to the business community’s opinions when it comes to issues such as the Affordable Care Act or a higher minimum wage. However, some issues seem so staggeringly simple; it is a shock to the rational person to find out it is even a problem at all. Such is the case with some of the discriminatory policies that many businesses have with regard to their employees whom are victims of domestic abuse. Only seven states have legislation protecting these victims, mostly women, with New Jersey being the most recent.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and reasonable people lament when they hear the all-too-common tale of the domestic abuse victim staying with their abuser and not turning the scoundrel in to the authorities. It seems like the simplest choice for someone to make, and people marvel how it continuously plays out this way.

One of the reasons this may happen, according to Carie Charlesworth, is because these abuse victims may fear for their jobs. Charlesworth is suing the San Diego Catholic Diocese because her teaching contract was terminated after her ex-husband stalked her on school property. Charlesworth had a protection order against her ex-husband, and so she warned the school that he may come there. After being sighted on the property, the school went into lockdown. He was then arrested for other violations of the protection order.

Charlesworth was sent home and her four children, who also attended the school, were pulled from classes. She then later received a letter in which her ex-husband’s criminal history is listed in terrifying detail, after which they inform her that she was fired and banned from teaching anywhere else in the diocese. Charlesworth was abandoned by her employer and church in one stroke.

The National Law Center backs up Charlesworth’s claim, extending the consequences of domestic abuse to also lead to homelessness. The results of the study indicate that victims of domestic abuse, especially ongoing abuse, are often evicted by their landlords. A recent The New York Times article highlighted the struggles of some individual residents who are afraid to call the police for fear they will be evicted.

The stories are essentially similar. These are women who extricate themselves from their abusers. They find homes for themselves and children, if any. For a victim of abuse, these “crime-free” neighborhoods certainly have an obvious appeal. However, they discover that if they call the police – say if their abuser is trying to get into their home or won’t leave her property – a certain number of times in a year, their landlords can evict them.

Studies show that nearly three-quarters of abusers harass their victims at their workplace as well as the home. Only about half of the 4 million cases of domestic abuse at a workplace from 1990-1993 were reported to the police. The intention of these laws is to ensure that if someone is a victim of domestic violence, she or he needn’t fear the loss of their jobs.

While sometimes these bills don’t have opposition, when they do it often comes from the business community or other interests, such as the San Diego Catholic Diocese. It is difficult to find on-the-record statements speaking out against these laws, but both state and federal proposals for laws are simply shuffled off to committee to die.

This seems to be yet another example of the culture of victim-blaming that is also prevalent amongst victims of sexual assault (another crime that mostly affects women). There seems to be a lingering perception that women who find themselves in an abusive relationship have “asked for it” either through their behavior or by getting involved with the type of man who could do such a horrible thing in the first place. Either way, it shows a lack of judgment on their part, in the eyes of the victim-blamer.

Especially because so many cases go unreported, it’s difficult to find accurate numbers to paint a picture of the scope of the domestic abuse problem. However, an international study discovered that one in six women seeking treatment for fractures were victims of domestic abuse. Women from the US and Canada had an increased risk of abuse over 12 months than the other countries that participated in the study. Only seven of the women abused had ever been asked about intimate partner violence in a healthcare setting.

The fact is that most people avoid those conversations because they are simply uncomfortable with them. According to ThinkProgress.org, a study conducted by the Avon Foundation for Women found that while 60 percent of people surveyed knew someone who had been the victim of domestic abuse, 57 percent of them had never had a conversation about it. If domestic abuse victims are unable to speak openly about their experiences amongst family and friends, how likely is that they will be able to speak about it with law enforcement.

It is imperative that this change, because all too often domestic violence ends with the abuser killing the victim. The Domestic Violence Resource Center claims that “on average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.” It’s impossible to know how many of those deaths might be prevented if the victims felt safe enough to turn in their abusers or, for those that did, been kept safe by the system they trusted.

It would be nice if we didn’t have to legislate that a victim of violence cannot be fired because they were attacked. It would be wonderful if people “just knew” how to handle such events with compassion and courage, providing support to victims when they need it the most. Yet, they don't, and it's making the problem worse. Perhaps these laws are the first step to changing that. It should be obvious that such a policy transcends the idea of “good for business,” to simply “good.” 


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