Domestic Violence is Moving Out of The Home And Into The Workplace

By Mary Beth Spina

Release Date: August 18, 1998 This content is archived.


SAN FRANCISCO -- Domestic violence may begin at home, but batterers are following their abused partners into the workplace, jeopardizing not only them, but their co-workers and innocent bystanders as well, a University at Buffalo forensic psychologist has found.

And while employer-sponsored programs to deal with domestic violence can cut the risk of violence in the workplace, it will not be totally eliminated until more effective programs are developed to prevent or stop domestic violence where it begins -- at home, Charles Patrick Ewing, Ph.D., UB professor of law and adjunct professor of psychology, reported to colleagues attending the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

A nationally known authority on battered women whose current project is a book about violence in the workplace, Ewing told a symposium on workplace violence held today (Aug. 18, 1998) that murder is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace, accounting for more than 42 percent of on-the-job deaths. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1992-94, the alleged perpetrators in 17 percent of those homicides were current or former spouses, boyfriends or domestic partners, Ewing said.

That percentage increased to 28 percent for African-American women and 20 percent for Hispanic women, he added.

Ewing noted that the gravity of the situation is reflected in one recent survey of battered women that indicates that three-quarters were abused at work by their batterers.

Moreover, U.S. Department of Justice figures estimate that current or former partners commit more than 13,000 non-fatal acts of violence against women in the workplace each year, ranging from stalking, repeated calls and other instances of minor harassment to major assaults, he said.

Ewing told symposium participants that within the past two years, government and private employers have begun to realize that domestic violence in the workplace is a fact of life -- and potentially a very expensive fact of life.

"At the prodding of unions and other interest groups, many of America's largest corporations have taken note of the fact that wherever it occurs, domestic violence against employees results in a drain on employee productivity, and increase in health-care costs and an overall drop in the company's economic bottom line," he said.

In addition, since federal and state health and safety laws require all employers to provide their employees with a safe working environment, some employees injured by workplace violence and the families of those killed by such violence are suing the employers for failing to meet these mandates, he said.

Employers are taking these facts to heart, Ewing said, noting that one recent survey showed that 58 percent of America's largest employers have programs designed to deal with domestic violence.

Ewing said that while all of these initiatives, implemented singly or in combination, can help cut the risk, they will not totally eliminate domestic violence in the workplace.

"Efforts to end domestic violence at work must begin with and complement more general efforts to stop the abuse of women in American society," he said.

Corporate America can contribute to that goal, he said, not only by taking steps to protect employees in the workplace, but also by contributing funds and other resources to the prevention of domestic violence, both in the home and in the workplace.

And psychologists and other social scientists and mental health experts can help reduce domestic violence in the workplace by "recognizing that domestic violence is not limited to the home," he pointed out.

In addition to Ewing's presentation, others given during the symposium on "Preventing and Responding to Workplace Violence," which he chaired, focused on developing practical thresholds for responding to threats and violence in the workplace, the use of interdisciplinary management teams, and strategies for allocating resources; developing an approach to threat assessment, and an historical perspective on society's response to emerging forms of interpersonal violence.