Domestic Violence: A Hidden Public Health Threat That Affects Businesses

02/23/2017 01:47 pm ET | Updated Mar 27, 2017

There is a hidden threat putting the safety and security of every American business and its bottom line at risk. The public health community I work in knows it, and studies show that corporate executives know it too. Until we come together to face this threat, we won’t be doing our best to prevent it.

The hidden threat is the chronic epidemic of domestic violence which affects one in three women and one in four men in the U.S. Domestic violence not only poses immediate danger to its victims, but also leads to higher incidence of long-term physical and mental health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression.[1]

But domestic violence does not happen just in the home. From 2003-2008, one-third of women killed in U.S. workplaces were killed by a current or former intimate partner.[2] Consider the CEO of BDA, Inc., a brand merchandising and marketing agency, who experienced the human cost of domestic violence the hard way. On a corporate retreat, Susan Brockert, an employee, was beaten to death in her hotel room by her boyfriend.

In addition to stories like Susan’s, domestic violence also takes a toll on the economic bottom line. Individuals who are physically, emotionally, and financially assaulted by their intimate partners are missing eight million paid workdays a year. That is the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.[3]

In a 2005 survey of victims of domestic violence, 64% indicated that their ability to work was jeopardized, and two in five feared their intimate partner’s intrusion at their job either by phone or in person[4].

Admittedly these statistics on the workplace impact of domestic violence are dated, an indication of the lack of investment in consistent research and public health surveillance of this ubiquitous and persistent threat. Many organizations are doing valuable work on the ground to prevent and address domestic violence in communities[5] , but more can be done. At the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, we are taking a look at how we can do a better job at domestic violence prevention, working across multiple disciplines - public health, business, medicine, and education. As we have learned in tackling other complex health problems such as HIV/AIDS and obesity, our effectiveness in preventing the epidemic of domestic violence will be limited severely if we do not collaborate with the private sector.

Any business leader knows that you can’t address a problem that is not fully understood. Thus, expanding our knowledge base about how best to prevent domestic violence, individually and institutionally, is critical to making progress. Research is needed to understand where to target evidence-based prevention efforts to make the most impact. More studies would be crucial to understanding what policies and programs are most effective. We also need communication strategies and messages that resonate, particularly with young adults where the incidence of domestic violence is greatest. And it would be important to have action plans to disseminate this knowledge far and wide.

In our fast-paced world nowadays, millions of Americans spend much of their week at work. Our business leaders recognize that the safety, security, health, and well-being of their employees are critical to achieving their financial goals. Whether we work in a factory or a laboratory, an office tower or a classroom, we must all prioritize domestic violence prevention through raising awareness, strategic partnerships, workplace conversations, and a call to action.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2011.

[2] National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Division of Safety Research, Analysis and Field Evaluations Branch, Morgantown, West Virginia. (April 2012).

[3]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Costs of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2003.

[4] Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, National Benchmark Telephone Survey, Bloomington, IL, 2005.

[5] National Coalition against Domestic Violence (http://www.ncadv.org/), Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence (http://www.caepv.org/), No More (http://nomore.org/about/), REACH (http://reachma.org/what-we-do/prevention-programs/), Center against Domestic Violence (http://www.cadvny.org/?gclid=CMnHjJq9kNICFcWFswod4DwJcg0), Domestic Violence Services Network, Inc. (http://dvsn.org/), Sudbury-Wayland-Lincoln Domestic Violence Roundtable (http://www.domesticviolenceroundtable.org/).

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