People who experience domestic violence are affected by it in every aspect of their lives — emotionally, physically and financially. I know because I survived domestic violence. While physical abuse is what’s talked about most when people discuss domestic violence, economic abuse happens just as regularly. That’s why is so important that we provide those who experience domestic violence with the resources that need to maintain financial security, like earned paid sick time.
January 4th, 2016
In 1998, my abuser shattered my left eye socket. I had to undergo surgery to replace the bone. At that time, it had been only four years since the Violence Against Women Act became law so there weren’t many resources available for women who were experiencing domestic abuse and I didn’t have benefits at my job. I also had a 4-year-old daughter to support. I ended up having to quit my job and find a new one even though I was supposed to be taking time to heal, But that just wasn’t an option because I needed an income.
At my new job, I worried that if I told my new employer about my situation, they would begin to look at me with some of the negative stereotypes that many people associate with victims of domestic violence. Therefore, I did not ask for time off to go to court and to take care of my health — I was seeing double from the injury and surgery — so my work suffered and I was demoted. On top of that, the only repercussion that my abuser faced was probation and an order to go to anger management sessions, so I worried about my daughter’s safety and mine.
I was able to get back on my feet, and from my experience, and years later, I founded an organization called SAFE, Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment, in 2006 because I saw that there was a huge need to address the economic factors that keep people in abusive situations. Abusers often utilize power and control to restrict access to financial resources, which ultimately limits options for the abused to leave their abusive situation. Since then, we’ve helped nearly 1,000 domestic violence survivors become financially independent.
I never recognized how big of a role economic abuse plays in domestic violence until I experienced it firsthand. And I continue to see the impact it has on women in the work that I do. I’ve seen how domestic violence affects women in the workplace when they aren’t able to take time to protect themselves from abusers — to do things like move to a new home, go to court dates and doctor’s appointments, or change their child’s school district.
Domestic violence doesn’t just affect the person being abused either. It affects friends, families, coworkers and communities. Women who experience domestic violence have higher rates of absenteeism and turnover because of the situation they are in. I know women who have been stalked by abusers while they’re on the job; not only is this a danger to them, it could potentially put others’ safety at risk.
There is so much that survivors of domestic violence have to go through to stay safe and regain their financial independence that is often overlooked, and the responsibility for it often falls squarely on the survivor. Employers have an important role in helping employees who are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence. More than 43 million Americans don’t have paid sick time, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Having access to earned paid sick time would allow survivors to take time to seek help and leave their abusive situation without risking their financial security. It would have made a big difference for me if I had access to that option when I experience domestic abuse.
One in four adult women have been the victim of some form of domestic violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is still a lot of work that must be done to empower survivors of domestic violence with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to end the cycle of economic abuse, while maintaining their personal safety. Having access to earned paid sick time is a crucial step forward that, for some victims, could mean the difference between life and death.
Kalyn Risker Fahie is executive director of Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment(SAFE).