By CHEYNA ROTH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Survivors of domestic violence would be given increased protections in the workplace and greater support when they try to leave abusers under bills being considered by the state House and Senate.
The employment bills are part of a package aimed at protecting domestic violence and sexual assault victims in several realms, including increasing confidentiality requirements and promoting updated sexual assault policies and training on college campuses.
“No one should ever have to decide between going to the police or keeping a job,” said Rep. Winnie Brinks, a Grand Rapids Democrat, during a press conference. “No one should have to choose between bringing their children to a domestic violence shelter or losing a day of pay.”
One bill would require employers that offer sick time to allow employees to use that time to deal with issues resulting from abuse, such as getting a medical exam, speaking with police officers and prosecutors, moving to a shelter or keeping therapy appointments.
The other bill would ensure individuals aren’t disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits as a consequence of being a victim of domestic violence, rape or stalking.
Economic security, including job security, is directly linked to a victim’s safety and ability to leave her abuser, according to the 2012 Wider Opportunities for Women Economic Security Guide. Survivors of domestic violence annually lose about 8 million days of paid work, according to a 2003 report from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Many domestic violence victims choose not to leave their abusers and take the time to move out of their homes because they are afraid of losing their jobs, advocates say. And employers are often unsympathetic when the abuser interferes with employees’ productivity by taking their keys or repeatedly calling at work.
Victims trying to leave their abusers also run into problems with keeping their new residences confidential.
Confidentiality is tied to safety, and it is “paramount” for survivors, said Desirae Kelley-Kato, program coordinator and advocate for Capital Area Response Effort (CARE) in Lansing. Right now, it is too easy for abusers to find their victims, she said.
Victims can request that their address be removed from court papers that are served to their abusers during a divorce or child custody proceeding, but Kelley-Kato says that protection is not enough. Violence often gets worse after the victim leaves.
“It escalates because that person has lost power and control over the victim,” said Kelley-Kato. “Now they are trying to get that power back, so it will escalate the stalking or the intimidation or using the system.”
One of the bills introduced in the Legislature would create an address confidentiality program through the Attorney General’s office. This program would allow victims to have an address assigned by the attorney general’s office serve as the victim’s address instead of their current residence.
The House bills were introduced in March, while the Senate bills were introduced April 14. The bills were referred to each chamber’s commerce committee, where they are awaiting hearing dates.
The social climate surrounding issues like domestic violence and rape has changed for the better over the years, said Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, a Muskegon Democrat.
“Change like that always takes time,” she said in an interview. “I think that’ll only get better.”
If you or someone you know are in a domestic violence situation you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or for immediate assistance dial 9-1-1. You can also contact CARE at 517-272-7436.
By CHEYNA ROTH