October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Often times, people think of the immediate needs for domestic violence survivors such as emergency shelter, legal assistance, and hot-lines, but not enough consideration is given to permanently ending domestic violence. The urgent care is important, but if we truly want to end violence that affects nearly one-third of American women, we need to focus on the long-term. How can we expect victims of domestic violence to extract themselves from abuse when they do not have the financial security to provide for themselves or their families?
Thirty percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year. Often, people ask about what factors cause. Abusers use many ways to control their victims, money is one of them. There are also studies that show just how closely related domestic violence and economic security are to each other: Over half of women currently receiving welfare said they experienced physical abuse.
Wendy Pollack, founder and director of the Women's Law and Policy Project (WLPP) at the Shriver Center says, "Domestic violence not only leaves physical and emotional scars, but can also wreak havoc on survivors' economic security. Domestic violence can undermine job productivity, require days off work, and even cause job loss and the loss of other sources of income."
So here's what I propose: we need support for policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Healthy Families Act that offer survivors long term options and provide them opportunities to break free from violence.
In 2011, women working full time in the United States earned just 77 percent of what men earned, a gap of 23 percent. The Paycheck Fairness Act aims to close pay disparities between men and women. If a woman earned a sufficient wage to take care of herself and her family, she would have options and the means to free herself from staying in a violent home.
The Healthy Families Act is an additional piece of legislation that could strengthen a woman's financial security and end domestic violence. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, "Nearly four in ten private-sector workers -- and 81 percent of low-wage workers --don't have a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses." In Illinois, more than 2.1 million Illinois workers -- about 45 percent of the state's private-sector workforce -- are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill. The Healthy Families Act would require one paid hour off for each 30 hours worked which would equate to up to seven paid sick days a year.
Although neither of these bills have passed, let's use Domestic Violence Awareness month to encourage our legislators to advocate for them.
Illinois is one of the strongest states when it comes to giving women the necessary protections to remain safe and preserve their employment or economic security. In 2003, with the passing of the Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA), llinois joined other states in providing 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period for victims of domestic violence and dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. The law also provides protection from employment and insurance discrimination for victims of domestic and sexual violence. While the act is aimed at preserving employment, it does not address the issue of a fair and living wage. If women had a fair and living wage, they would have the independence needed to live free from her abuser, or the time she might need to take care of herself if she is sick.
These three laws are just a few of important factors that can help domestic violence survivors gain economic security. We have the power to create systemic change in domestic violence if we empower women with the opportunities to have viable and long-lasting economic security.