Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dow Jones Companies, Nonprofits Work To Aid Domestic Violence Victims

Here is a great story from the Dow Jones Newswires about the work we are doing with Safe Horizon and many Dow Jones companies on SafeWork 2010:

Dianne Merrigan knew she had to get out of the relationship after the verbal abuse started again. She saw the warning signs. The first time, her husband's remarks had escalated into a beating that put her in the hospital, she said. The second time, the abuse had cost her a high-paying position as a human resources generalist at an insurance company.

So Merrigan, who now works as a human resources recruiter for a hospital, had her employer deposit 5% of her paycheck into a separate checking account, small enough so that her husband wouldn't notice. Had her husband realized what she was doing, she feared he would have emptied out their shared bank account again or worse, said Merrigan.

Advocates for domestic violence victims understand the importance of employment and financial security in getting women out of abusive relationships.

This is why companies and nonprofit organizations are partnering to focus on victims' financial management and why employers are making sure they have the resources to safeguard their staff and their bottom line.

The impact of domestic violence on the workplace includes safety issues, dangerous and stressful situations, and low productivity.

"For domestic violence victims, the violence and abuse at home doesn't stay at home. It follows them to work," said Scott Millstein, interim chief executive of Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in 2003 that intimate-partner violence against women exceeds $5.8 billion in health-related costs each year, including about $4.1 billion for direct medical and mental health care services and productivity losses of about $1.8 billion. In 2005, the CDC also found that one of four women have experienced physical or sexual intimate-partner violence in their lifetime, and one of seven men have experienced the same.

This type of violence is linked to health risk behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking and sexual risk taking, and chronic health conditions such as asthma, arthritis and stroke, the CDC reported.

"(Finances) can be one of the main reasons why women decide they can't leave an abusive situation, or end up returning to one," said Rene Renick, director of programs and operations for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Renick's organization and the Allstate Foundation are working together to create tools to improve short- and long-term financial opportunities for domestic violence survivors, including providing small grants for education and job training purposes. The Click to Empower campaign is raising funds to address needs not covered by other financial resources, such as books and supplies for school, certification fees, tuition, child care and even fees for computer access.

"What our company found, and what experts agree on, is that there was and there still is a significant gap of resources that address this specific issue," said Jennifer Kuhn, program manager for the Domestic Violence Program at the Allstate Foundation, part of Allstate Corp. (ALL).

For its part, Safe Horizon, through its SafeWork 2010 campaign announced last fall, is sending out CEO Action Kits to various corporations nationwide in order to raise awareness about domestic abuse and what companies can do to help employees. The kits include such resources as organizations employees can go to and tips on making the workplace a safe zone where they can ask for help.

The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, an organization that focuses on the workplace and a SafeWork 2010 national partner, states victims can also approach their medical or wellness departments or employee assistance programs.

If the victim feels at risk in the workplace, he or she can contact security personnel and provide them with a photograph of the abuser.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2005 Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention reported that over 10% of private industries have policies addressing domestic violence in the workplace. Less than 5% of all work establishments, including state and local governments, provide training on how to address the issue.

Verizon Wireless, a national partner of SafeWork 2010, said it has helped about 100 employees over the past couple of years.

"We'll change someone's phone number, relocate people, change hours. This benefits our business because employees are an investment and we want them to stay with the company," said Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debi Lewis. She added that employees can ask for help by talking to their supervisors or local human resources representative, or by calling the employee assistance program number.

The company also offers #HOPE, part of its HopeLine program, which anyone with a Verizon Wireless phone can access by dialing #4673 on his or her handset to be connected to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Lewis said the training employees receive through SafeWork 2010 shows them what signs to look out for that might indicate domestic violence so that they feel more comfortable approaching their co-workers in order to point them to a supervisor or someone who can help.

Other SafeWork 2010 founding members include Liz Claiborne Inc. (LIZ), Altria Group Inc. (MO), Mary Kay Inc., Avon Products Inc. (AVP) and several others.

"Batterers try to keep partners in the relationships, and (financial control) is a very powerful way of doing that," Renick said.

Susan Hurlbert, who used to work as an executive assistant at a national insurance company during her turbulent marriage, said her husband controlled everything from how she cooked to allocating her an allowance to spend on personal needs.

The couple had merged their accounts at her husband's insistence, Hurlbert said.

However, when her husband chose to leave the relationship, he also left with their savings, cleaning out their account and leaving nothing to pay the mortgage, utilities and other expenses, she added. She went from a four-bedroom house in one of Connecticut's wealthiest neighborhoods to a two-bedroom apartment.

Community organizations such as the Interval House in Connecticut, which Hurlbert and Merrigan went to for help, offers abuse victims services such as an emergency shelter, support groups and advice on how to regain financial stability.

Renick explained that survivors might not understand their own financial situation, or may have been prevented from accessing their bank accounts or assets.

She recommended that in addition to working with advocates to plan for personal safety before leaving an abusive relationship, survivors also should try to find out what assets they do have, try to learn the passwords and make copies of important documents like driver's licenses, marriage certificates, birth certificates and Social Security information. Survivors also should change personal banking, investing and email account passwords and open up a post office box so that important financial information doesn't end up in the abuser's hands.

The Allstate Foundation's Web site,, offers more tips on how victims can rebuild their financial future by, among other things, obtaining and monitoring their own credit reports and calling utility companies, wireless phone services and banks to secure private information with a new password and/or PIN.

The program also advises against using one's Social Security number, birthday or mother's maiden name to verify one's identity and suggests making changes if the partner is listed as a designated beneficiary on the victim's insurance, will or trust account.

Women are at risk the first year after they leave an abusive relationship, Renick said, giving examples of situations where the abuser can threaten the victim at the workplace and harass co-workers.

Merrigan said she was terminated from a job after she informed her employer that she had placed a protective order against her husband.

"I remember what (the human resources vice president's) exact quote was, and I will never forget it: 'This isn't the right time in your life to have a career,'" Merrigan said.

However, for Merrigan and women in her situation, employment comes at exactly the right time as they look for support and a way out.

-By Saba Ali, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-5400;

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