Can Work be Safe When Home Isn't?
The cost of domestic violence to Canadian business is startling. It’s estimated Canadian employers lose $77.9 million annually due to the direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence (DV). The cost to individuals, families and society go far beyond that.
Until very recently, very little was known about the scope and impacts of this problem in Canada. The evidence linking economic independence, being in paid employment and DV has been steadily developing, and we now know that women with a history of DV have a more disrupted work history, have lower personal incomes, have had to change jobs more often, and more often work in casual and part time roles than women without violence experiences. We’ve also leaned that being employed is a key pathway to leaving a violent relationship; the financial security that employment affords can allow women to escape the isolation of an abusive relationship, and maintain, as far as possible, their home and standard of living.
In an effort to gather more Canadian data, The University of Western Ontario partnered with the Canadian Labour Congress to conduct a pan-Canadian survey on DV in the workplace. Survey results were released last month.
The survey report titled “Can Work be Safe When Home Isn’t?” reveals some startling statistics. More than one third of workers across the country have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, and for more than half of those affected, the violence followed them to work. 6.5 percent of survey respondents indicated they are currently experiencing domestic violence.
Among those exposed to domestic violence:
- 38% reported that the violence affected their ability to get to work.
- Fully 8.5% of those affected had lost a job due to domestic violence.
- Over half reported that the violence continued at the workplace in some way, for example, harassing phone calls from the abuser, and stalking.
- The vast majority reported that it affected their work performance in some way, for example, due to being distracted, tired, or unwell.
Ultimately, stronger evidence confirms that depth and cost of DV in Canadian workplaces and will help to shape legislation, policies and practices that results in progressive change. It will help promote violence prevention and safety in workplaces; hold abusers accountable; and lift the burden from victims so they don’t have to deal with domestic violence alone.
Melissa is a Survivor
Without the support of her manager and co-workers, Melissa’s not sure she would have survived her abusive relationship. Eight years later, she tells her story so that others in similar situations will know that there’s hope. “You can have a whole different life,” she says. “I would tell my story a million times if it would help one person.”
Melissa was married for more than five years to a man who was charming at first. “He made me feel like a princess,” says Melissa. “But then, while we were still dating, he became controlling.”
Melissa was fired from her job before she was married because her finance was calling so often. “It became very intense. He was meeting me for lunch at work and then we would fight. I was crying at my desk and he was calling so often that they finally just fired me.”
Afraid to fail and sure that things would get better if she just loved him enough, Melissa married and had two children. “He was better when I was pregnant but after our second child, he went out more. He was short-tempered and abusive.”
Over time, the abuse escalated and Melissa knew she had to leave. Her husband was calling her at work up to fifty times a day, he was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. Melissa found herself under constant stress, unable to do her work, crying in the washroom and brushing off the concerns of her co-workers when she showed up with bruises or limping from his assaults.
After fleeing barefoot into the snow one February night, Melissa found shelter at a neighbour’s. Fortunately, the woman understood Melissa’s situation well because she was also a survivor. Her neighbour called the police and Melissa remembers her intense sense of relief that she wasn’t hiding the abuse anymore.
“My colleagues and supervisors at work were very supportive,” she says. With a restraining order in place, Melissa circulated a photo to co-workers and security staff who made sure she was protected. “My manager took everything very seriously,” says Melissa. “I felt safe at work and they gave me time to attend all the meetings and appointments I needed to get to.”
The support Melissa received from others kept her firm in her decision to leave the abusive marriage. Today she’s in a happy, healthy second marriage to a kind and compassionate man. Her kids are thriving and she’s proud of her promotion to a management position.
“My life just started again when I left,” says Melissa. “I don’t know that I’d even be here without the support of my workplace, friends and family.”
Behind the Scenes of our New Digital Stories
This fall, the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) released a digital series showcasing a fictional story of domestic violence and the impacts on the couple, their co-workers and workplaces. Now a behind-the-scenes video reveals the motivations and hopes of the director, actors and others who worked on it.
The series was produced by Facilitator Films under the direction of Alan Powell who has been involved for a number of years in work that dispel myths around violence against women. He is dedicated to authenticity in his work. “We try to be as realistic as possible in our approach and in the script writing, allowing the education to still come through. The high end quality of this work will affect the people who see it,” he says.
The series of eight first person accounts explores the feelings, experiences and consequences of abuse on the victim/survivor, her abusive partner as well as co-workers, supervisors and employers. The stories also offer models for action to help end the abuse and keep everyone safe.
Actor Art Hindle plays an employer in the series and was pleased to be part of the project. “Spousal abuse is very close to my heart because I think it’s one of the biggest problems we have in society today,” he says. “These videos go a long way to helping people who are victims of it.”
Shelley Yeo, Director of Transitional and Community Programs for Women’s Community House also comments from behind the scenes. She is convinced of the value of educational videos like these. “When we become aware of the impact of violence and the effect on our communities and our homes and our workplaces, then we’re much more willing to step up and do something about it.”