While the outright violation of the human rights of abuse victims should be the focus as the domestic violence epidemic takes global proportions, reason for concern is also the tremendous impact it has on the economy. Recognizing the pervasiveness of the issue, non-profit organizations and governmental institutions have attempted to quantify the economic costs (money lost on healthcare services and loss of productivity). Figures published by organizations such as the World Bank Group, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and several others indicate that expenses caused by domestic abuse are shared between households, private companies, and public institutions, either directly or in the long run.
37 percent of the 7,000 women surveyed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) said domestic violence has a direct and negative impact on their productivity at work. Those who have been sexually abused declared they cannot complete their tasks with the same efficiency as their colleagues. In a year, domestic abuse victims lose approximately 8 million days of work and 5.6 million days of household productivity. Recent victims of domestic violence lose nearly 30 percent more time to absenteeism and tardiness than their co-workers, while one fourth of the 1 million women who report stalking miss an average of 11 days per year.
And the cost to the economy? Simply outrageous: $8.3 billion dollars is the average expense (medical costs and lost productivity) that taxpayers must cover in a year, although some studies have estimated the total costs to be as high as $12.6 billion. In the United Kingdom, a study including the pain and suffering costs and the reduction in economic output into the total cost of domestic violence found that individuals, companies, and the state are forking over at least £23 billion annually to make up for the losses. Studies in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are sending the expenses well into the billions of dollars.
The Indirect Impact, Even More Worrisome
In addition to the direct costs and impact on the economy, studies have shown that domestic violence brings forth significant indirect costs on the abused, as well as on businesses, state organizations, and societal institutions. Low productivity and reduced earnings are two of the most important indirect costs imposed by domestic abuse, with research constantly reiterating that abused women make far less money and are not as productive as non-victims.
Jeni Klugman, Director of Gender and Development at the World Bank, explains that, “Experiencing IPV [intimate partner violence] is thus associated with increased absenteeism over the long term and presenteeism in the short term through tardiness, not showing up for work, and use of sick days, as well as problems with concentration, job performance, and productivity, .”
Specifically, domestic violence causes victims to not show up for work out of shame and fear of having to explain their physical injuries. Also, they might avoid seeing their colleagues in order to keep matters private, in case the abuser decides to continue the harassment and abuse at the victim’s place of work. In most cases, anxiety, depression, and paralyzing fear are keeping victims in a constant state of terror, which can hardly be hidden or left at home.
As a result of low self-esteem, increased cortisol levels, poorer concentration, and other health issues caused by violence, victims are also less productive at performing work-related tasks. Since they appear to not be able to fulfill their job requirements as expected, a possible outcome would be for them to be overlooked for promotions or even to get fired. “Employed women experiencing violence are often subject to a range of interference tactics by their partner undercutting their ability to maintain regular employment. Some of the tactics undermining efforts to get to work, [such as] hiding or stealing keys or transportation money, and not showing up to care for children,” the report said.
And it’s all downhill from here. An abused, stressed, unsatisfied professionally or even jobless woman will have a hard time fulfilling her duties at home. Household chores, childcare, and other domestic activities usually carried out with ease by the victim may not be addressed with the same implication as before. The once joyful and optimistic individual turns into a confused, shocked, emotionally numb human being, who may no longer perceive reality as it is.
Even as the victim leaves, the costs of domestic violence aren’t mitigated – a report from the United Nations explains why: “Finally, the household faces costs if the victim leaves the abusive household and loses the economies of scale derived from sharing one domicile. That is, more work is required to produce the same level of output in two households than in one. For example, one person can cook a meal for two or more people with only a marginal increase in time and materials compared to two people cooking two meals. The additional resources used to produce the same level of output are a longer term cost of the violence that caused the separation.”
Why Employers Should Care about Domestic Abuse
By reaching out to victims of domestic violence, employers are not only being good humanitarians – caring about such issues also makes good business sense, for various reasons. First of all, domestic abuse is a liability concern, and employers who overlook signs of domestic abuse in the workplace may be held liable in a court of law and be required to compensate the victims (the average settlement is roughly $600,000).
Secondly, domestic abuse is a company management problem: 94 percent of corporate security directors believe domestic violence is one of the major security threats their companies are currently dealing with. Moreover, 2 in 3 Fortune 1000 leaders believe their companies would register an increased profit by addressing this issue among employees.
It surely is challenging and sometimes overwhelming to think and act upon domestic violence, but it ultimately depends on employers to develop a zero-tolerance policy and protect the victims of abuse. Implementing certain policies and procedures will enable employers to make a difference in the workplace and the lives of abused employees. Here are a few guidelines:
- Developing a workplace safety plan for recognizing and dealing with signs of abuse
- Establishing processes for employees to report abusive situations and also notify management about them
- Setting up policies and procedures for flexible hours and workplace relocation for victims
- Establish who will be in charge of reporting threats and acts of violence to the authorities
- Encourage victims to come forth and talk about their problems openly
- Consider implementing special conditions for the victims, such as increased security, peace bonds, restraining orders, temporary leave, etc.
- Ensure psychological help for victims
A Forbes article suggests transforming the company culture as a way of raising awareness: “Senior executives can promote a culture that includes domestic violence awareness and prevention. Information about domestic violence should be shared at every employee orientation. It should be addressed at every occupational health visit. It can be incorporated into workplace wellness activities. When the issues of domestic violence are brought front and center in as many venues as possible, we have a better chance of breaking the silence.”
No Longer a Private Matter
An abused woman cannot leave her wounds and suffering at home as she leaves for work. An abused woman at home continues to be abused in the workplace, both directly – if her partner continues to harass and threaten her – and indirectly, as the torment she’s going through impacts her work performance and productivity. Stigmatized and stereotyped most of the times, they rarely see justice done.
Historically, domestic violence and abuse has been addressed and referred to as a private matter – more so, as women’s private matter. Despite the fact that domestic violence occurs in every country and culture, cutting across every segment of society and affecting people from all religious, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds, people have chosen to look the other way. Time and again, the abused were pointed out as the culprit, accused of having done “something to deserve it,” when, in fact, violence is a deliberate act of crime, and the abuser should be held responsible for what he consciously chooses to do.
Women make up half of the globe’s population and a staggering percentage will be the victims of domestic violence and abuse at the hands of their intimate partners at some point in their lifetime. Ultimately, it’s up to us to see things clearly: violence against women is not an accident, nor is it a private matter. Just a slight change in perspective will reveal signs of abuse all around us, prompting us to take action and stop the destruction of the lives of our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Individuals and communities, private businesses and societal institutions – we are all exposed to the devastating effects of this ever-growing epidemic. And when the problem reaches global proportions – as it already has – it’s time to act on it.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.