We'll never know how many victims do the best they can at work or anywhere else, even with domestic violence woven through every part of their lives. But what's clear from national headlines and our local experience is that a batterer's violence doesn't always stay home when victims leave the house. Each of us actually has the issue woven through our lives, whether visibly or not.
Here in the U.S., 1 in 5 employed adults is the victim of domestic violence, and 74 percent of employed battered women say they're harassed by their partners while at work. In fact in a recent national survey, 44 percent of all employees reported that their workplace was impacted by domestic violence, mostly because a coworker was a victim. But when it comes to making a workplace connection, it's important to realize the full scope of it, including that perpetrators too may be colleagues. Another recent study found that over 75 percent of perpetrators used their own employer's resources and time to continue harassing or threatening behavior. So aside from being a critical social issue, for businesses it's a financial one too, regardless of which partner they've employed.
Because batterers tend to be insecure and extremely controlling, they may go to great lengths to check up on, stalk, or scare a victim, even sabotage entirely her chance for some workday independence. Beyond direct contact with her, this might include disabling her car, hiding her keys, making her late, or ultimately forbidding an outside job altogether. Most disturbing is that in a 2011 Vermont study, offenders themselves reported that their partners had to take an average of 20 days off per year due to outright violence, and at least 4 domestic violence homicides in Vermont have occurred in connection with the victim's job. Clearly, anyone employed anywhere has a stake in raising this topic, and raising our collective bar on safety.
Yet as sobering as these statistics are, they shed light on enormous potential too: to the extent that we're all touched by domestic violence, we have many places to impact it in return -- to model gender equity and respect, and help shape the norms that affect everyone in the room. Places of work and worship, as well as clubs and teams, can offer us all portals to ongoing education and ideas, and be influential as a reality check from the wider community. Whether it's through a discreet one-on-one conversation, or an organized group training, we can all inspire social change. As advocates at the Women's Freedom Center, we welcome opportunities to have such dialogue in community settings, and we encourage calls from employers, congregations, and clubs, both large and small.
Domestic violence can certainly wreak havoc on a victim's attendance and performance, and not all employers are supportive or informed about the issue, or even their own legal obligations. Still, it's promising that we do hear from women who first confided their story not to family or to us, but to the coworkers and employers they see every day, and have learned to trust. Or to the pastor or sponsor who seemed especially alert and approachable on this topic. People who offered them not just time, compassion, and our hotline number, but also, for those who were ready, maybe their first safe place to make that confidential call. We get these stories enough to know that proactive community members in that initial role can literally save lives.
And the same may be true when batterers encounter a workplace culture that proactively addresses the issue, through information, policies, as well as meaningful consequences for violating them. In the 2011 Vermont study cited earlier, over 77 percent of those male offenders felt that workplace policies which addressed domestic abuse would be an effective deterrent to violence. For employers interested in exploring some resources, the Vermont Attorney General's website offers samples of model practices: www.atg.state.vt.us (see domestic violence). And a project known as the Small Business Initiative offers additional perspectives at www.safeatworkcoalition.org. It was created in 2000 by a group of employers, unions, advocates, and government organizations to educate businesses, and help address what was traditionally seen as a private problem.
Clearly as advocates we're inspired by these tandem efforts, because their reach is so vast. While offenders are solely responsible for their own behavior, we can all help foster a just and vibrant workplace or civic group that increases safety and solidarity with victims, and adds a measure of accountability for batterers who no longer coast so easily under the social radar. Historically of course, it's been easier to blame women or leave their safety up to them, than for society to confront the root problem, which is still patriarchy. But as statistics around the country bear out, this group-silence is risky business for us all -- because domestic violence still thrives on it, and is epidemic, and because victims themselves never really get a day off.
The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womensfreedomcenter and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.