Contributed article by attorneys Lennox Chase and Jane E. Freedman. Recently, George LeVines covered how domestic abuse shelters are using high tech surveillance tools like Tor to prevent digital abuse.
When Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley speaks about domestic violence her voice fills with passion, and people listen. Recently, Councillor Pressley spoke at two different events about the effects of domestic violence. Pressley talks about the bonds of a community as a fiber of woven threads. If some of the threads are weak, the community is weak. The thread of domestic violence weakens the collective fibers that comprise our community.
Domestic abuse is an uncomfortable issue that occurs in all age and socioeconomic groups. We need only look at recent Boston Globe reports to see examples of this epidemic, particularly the cases of Jared Remy and Nathaniel Fujita. Domestic violence can be an awkward issue to discuss, but it is an issue that must be addressed.
The economic rationale for ending domestic violence is clear: with a strong and thriving community, Boston will be a sustainable and livable city that attracts talented people to live, work, and innovate. The plea is clear: we all need to do our parts to build and strengthen community.
Given its wide impact across a range of issues, some studies estimate that the total annual cost of domestic violence in the United States exceeds $12 billion.
Domestic abuse has various direct and indirect costs and effects on community. Domestic abuse affects an individual’s body and mind; depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and dissociation are some of the more complex ailments caused by domestic abuse. Multiple forms of abuse (mental and physical) can cause higher health care costs over the short and long term for victims and families. According to Dr. Robert Pearl, health care treatment of ailments caused by domestic violence has resulted in medical costs of $5.8 billion. The result is that domestic violence drives up health care costs for everyone.
Domestic violence also contributes to reduced earnings and lower workplace productivity, ultimately impacting company profitability. Domestic violence impedes victims’ job advancement, compromises safety for employees and their co-workers, while also causing victims to miss work, arrive late for work and/or leave work early to care for themselves or their children.
As society becomes more comfortable addressing the social and economic effects of domestic violence, more employers have seen the need to support employees in need. Consequently, employers should view domestic violence in the same light as other health issues that affect employee productivity. Lost productivity costs are estimated at $2.5 billion.
Domestic violence also impacts overall economic productivity in a variety of other ways that have negative repercussions. There are the obvious direct costs, such as damaged property. However, there are also increased public service costs, such as the cost of police and medical intervention.
Lawmakers also are beginning to take note. Certain federal and state laws now support the premise that employers must make accommodations and provide benefits to victims of domestic violence. Some jurisdictions have even mandated that employers grant leave to employees that are coping with domestic violence issues. Some federal and state laws have created employer duties to accommodate domestic violence victims and prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees that disclose being victims of domestic abuse. Other states now require that companies pay out worker compensation benefits if the domestic violence victim was required to quit her job because of domestic violence.
Every problem has a solution. As with any challenge, there are a variety of options that can help improve unfortunate circumstances. Employers can educate employees about their rights and benefits under applicable laws. In addition, employers can develop workplace policies and benefits that facilitate early prevention and response strategies for victims of domestic violence. Supporting local domestic violence programs is another effective way to develop appropriate company policies that improve and save lives. Further, engaged employers can provide access to backup childcare and flexible work arrangements to accommodate the handling of medical and legal issues for victims of domestic violence.
We therefore all have an obligation to do our part to eradicate the ongoing plague of domestic violence. All of us can raise awareness and educate. We can encourage public-private-nonprofit collaborations, speak publicly about the issue, and/or become involved in domestic violence prevention and intervention. Moreover, we can partner with community based programs and entities such as Casa Myrna to provide support, mentoring, money, and time.
The costs of domestic violence are borne by a variety of constituencies, including the victims themselves, their families, their employers, and ultimately, all of us as taxpayers and members of the community. Domestic violence impacts victims, families, and communities. It will take public and private actors working together to help end it.
Jane E. Freedman is the principal at Jane Freedman Law and regularly writes about issues related to law and business on her blog, Words of Wisdom. Lennox Chase is an attorney and the founder of MyBarPrep.com, an online tutoring service for law school students. Ms. Freedman and Mr. Chase serve on the Board of Directors of Casa Myrna, a Greater Boston non-profit that delivers services to end domestic and dating violence.