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Domestic Violence

Why Intimate Partner Abuse Is a Workplace Issue

3 things businesses should know to take action to stop violence against women.

Key points

  • Abusive partners' tactics can extend to victims' workplaces.
  • Businesses have an interest in prioritizing safety and economic security to prevent and respond effectively to intimate violence.
  • Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is an opportunity to start conversations about intimate violence at the workplace.

In a few days, Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins. Across October, awareness-raising activities will roll out, offering an opportunity to counter the common misconception that intimate violence is a women’s issue or a special interest issue. The reality is that violence against women matters to each of us, regardless of our gender or life experiences. That’s because violence against women affects our healthcare, legal, and social service systems as well as our schools, faith communities, and neighborhoods.

Violence against women also affects our workplaces and economy. Here are three things workplaces should know about intimate violence to move from awareness to action this October.

Anne DePrince
Source: Anne DePrince

1. Abusive Partners Often Sabotage Work

When researchers asked more than 500 women about intimate partner abuse and work, they learned that abusive partners routinely did things to make it more difficult for women to get to work. For example, abusive partners took women’s car keys or disrupted childcare plans, making it difficult for women to get to work. Once women were at work, abusive partners commonly did things to interrupt, such as calling frequently, making threats to force women to leave work, and disrupting coworkers. In addition to such tactics, injuries from intimate violence also contribute to absenteeism and diminish women’s opportunity to succeed at work.

2. Workplaces Matter for Social Connection and Support

Workplaces have an essential role to play in the lives of workers contending with intimate partner abuse. In one sense, work can offer a respite from the abuse, but it's also a place for connection in the wake of alienation and isolation. After all, alienation is common after intimate violence, and abusive partners often seek to isolate women from family, friends, and others. Workplaces can offer especially important social connections for survivors, as illustrated by research showing that women commonly disclosed intimate violence at work.

Of course, women's reasons for disclosing intimate violence at work were varied and not limited to seeking support. Some women disclosed because they feared that abusers would show up at work and harm them or their coworkers, and they wanted their workplace to be prepared. Part of a supportive workplace, then, has to include policies and practices that create physical and psychological safety for all workers. Indeed, safety is one of the six key principles of trauma-informed organizations detailed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAHMSA).

3. Economic Security is Essential to Violence Prevention

Economic uncertainty and unemployment are tangled up with intimate partner abuse, which means that policies that promote economic security are a key to violence prevention. Consider, for example, that macro indicators of economic uncertainty predict intimate partners’ coercive control of women as well as family violence. Years with greater wage gaps between women and men have been linked to domestic violence hospitalizations. Women’s unemployment predicted revictimization, as my research team discovered when we interviewed women after police-reported incidents of domestic violence.

What Businesses Can Do

From hospitals to hospitality and beer breweries to banks, businesses of all sizes and industries have an interest in preventing and responding effectively to intimate partner violence — whether it’s because they are committed to their employees’ wellbeing or because it makes good financial sense to take actions that prevent turnover and absenteeism as well as support employee success.

When businesses fail to act to support survivors, they can exacerbate the harm of trauma, as attorney Katharine Manning pointed out in a recent Harvard Business Review article on trauma-informed workplaces. Instead, Manning recommends several strategies for managers to respond to trauma in the lives of their employees, detailed in The Empathetic Workplace: 5 Steps to a Compassionate, Calm, and Confident Response to Trauma On the Job.

Beyond responding to particular instances of trauma, businesses also have an interest in advancing policies that promote economic security, such as paid leave. Research shows that paid leave can benefit both employers and workers. For survivors in particular, paid leave can be the difference between being able to go to court or seek medical, and not doing so.

Ultimately, economic security is violence prevention, and violence prevention is essential to employee wellbeing and success. Consider, for example, a report from McKinsey & Company that shows that addressing violence against women is one key to increasing gender parity and adding to the gross domestic product. It’s not surprising, then, that business scholars have pointed to addressing intimate violence as a key component of corporate social responsibility.

An Invitation at Your Workplace

While writing my book, Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women, I came to recognize the importance of inviting an ever-expanding network of people to explore their shared interest in working together to address intimate violence—and then to take action. With October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month around the corner, you have a great opportunity to initiate conversations and explore connections in your workplace to begin to build the policies and culture necessary to prevent and respond effectively to intimate violence. After all, your workplace, like countless others, shares an interest in building a world without intimate violence.