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THE NATION

Domestic Violence Poses 'Double Jeopardy'

Workplace: The toll of abuse costs some victims their jobs. Senate panel considers protections.

July 26, 2002|MICHELLE MUNN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Kathy Evsich learned the hard way that, as a victim of domestic violence, finding an ally in an employer was rare.

She was fired twice because her employers wouldn't tolerate the hourly phone calls from her husband. Nor could they contend with his drive-by harassment, his threats to them or their fears that other employees could be harmed. But in November 1999, Evsich obtained a restraining order, found a job as a cashier and began building a nest egg so she and her two children could move away.

Her husband responded by driving to the grocery store where she worked and, using a car rented expressly for the purpose, running her down. Then he stabbed her four times, damaging her heart and her lungs.

On Thursday, Evsich--now vice president of Women Against Domestic Violence, an activist group based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.--came to Capitol Hill to tell her story to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which is considering amendments to welfare reform legislation dealing with victims of domestic violence.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 31, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 7 inches; 268 words Type of Material: Correction
Domestic violence--A story in Friday's Section A on domestic violence misidentified a group that monitors the issue. It is the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. It is not affiliated with the National Organization for Women.
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"Workplaces need to know and understand the dynamics of abuse," she said. "The whole aim of an abuser is to make a victim solely dependent on them so she can't leave.

"She can't buy clothes for her children, she can't buy food for her children unless she has a job. Employers need to understand that."

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who convened the hearing, described the "double jeopardy" of domestic violence: "Too often women are forced to choose between protecting themselves from abuse and keeping a roof over their head," he said. No one should "face the double tragedy of first being abused and then losing a job, health insurance or any other means of self-sufficiency because they were abused."

At present, only California, Colorado and Maine have laws allowing victims of domestic violence to take leaves of absence from their jobs. Colorado and Maine extend the provisions to victims of stalkers and sexual assault, said Kathy Rodgers, president of the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund. A similar proposal has passed the California Assembly and is now before the state Senate, Rodgers said.

Although 18 states, including California, have passed laws providing unemployment insurance to employees who leave jobs because of domestic violence, victims often can't claim unemployment, welfare, or Family and Medical Leave Act benefits, experts said.

More than 2.8 million people are victimized by intimate partners annually, according to a 2000 Department of Justice report. Homicide is the leading cause of death on the job for women, and more than 20% of those crimes are committed by their husbands or boyfriends, Diane Stuart, director of the Department of Justice's Violence Against Women office, told the committee.

Still, only "a very small number" of companies have programs to help victims of violence, according to the NOW legal defense fund. For Sidney Harman, co-founder of Harman International Industries Inc., a Washington-based high-end audio technology company, it took the death of a 24-year employee to force an executive decision.

Teresa Duran, a 56-year-old worker at the Fortune 500 company, was gunned down in May 2001 by her former husband as she was returning home from work. Harman approached the Family Violence Prevention Fund, part of the Justice Department, and local police to develop a program that would train employees to offer information and referrals on domestic violence. The company also developed internal security systems to protect confidentiality and prevent situations where employees could be physically harmed.

Businesses pay an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion a year in medical expenses caused by domestic violence, according to the Bureau of National Affairs. The National Health Resource Center for Domestic Violence reports that 94% of corporate security directors rank it as a high security problem; 71% of human resources and security personnel surveyed have had an incident of domestic violence occur on company property.

To prevent workplace violence, employers can change an employee's phone extension or route calls through a receptionist. Registering protective orders with building security or transferring the employee to another site may also help, experts said. Stuart, of the Justice Department, called on communities to create teams of lawyers, shelter providers and community members to help employers devise plans. The Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act--comprehensive measures introduced last year that proponents say extend government benefits to victims of domestic violence--has been referred to committee but has not been heard. Instead, senators, including Wellstone, aim to get some of its provisions included in welfare reform legislation up for renewal in September.

The hearing Thursday was not well-attended, partly because of a nearby homeland security meeting. But those senators who came said they would continue the fight.

"I don't think we can forget these women today," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "For them, homeland security has an entirely different meaning."

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