Business and personal: domestic violence is everyone's issue

Personal loss and business cost calculated at awarenessbreakfast


   Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, executive director of Independence House, lights a candle for each domestic violence death in Massachusetts last year, as volunteers representing each lost life stand together in a line. The memory ceremony closed the domestic violence awareness month breakfast Oct. 21 at the Cape Codder in Hyannis.

By Teresa Martin

In a morning of both emotional swings and clear-stated fact,the Cape's annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month Breakfast delivered on itspromise of awareness and education Friday morning.

After seeing the data and hearing personal testimony, the40+ breakfast attendees left the Cape Codder with a clear message: the cost ofdomestic violence hits business bottom lines and personal life every day, allaround us.

Chilling numbers

Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, executive director of the Hyannisbased Independence House, set the tone by reporting that her agency alone servedmore than 2500 people last year - all victims of domestic violence. Here. Onthe Cape.

Keynote speaker Courtney Cahill, director of the domesticviolence unit for the Plymouth County District Attorney's Office, and presidentof the board of Employers Against Domestic Violence (EADV), picked up the themeciting a 2008 CDC study that looked at the cost of domestic violence.

The nation-wide study found 1 in 5 employed adults werevictims of domestic violence - and the cost created by the abusers' actionswent far beyond their victims' well-being. The abusers created 1.4 billion daysof lost productivity for business and $3.8 billion in medical and mental healthcosts, as well as an undocumented amount of legal expenses.

She also noted that the Washington State Domestic ViolenceTask Force determined that the number one cause of injury for women in thiscountry is, no, not automobile accidents, but domestic violence. Domestic violencelies behind 35% of all emergency room visits by women.

Control issue

Too often people both underestimate and misunderstanddomestic violence. "It is about having control, not about loss ofcontrol," said Cahill.

This pattern of control takes place through emotional,financial, and verbal, as well as physical means, she said. 

Victims are victims not the cause

All too often, victims get blamed for causing the violence."We've all heard people ask - 'well, why doesn't she just leave him?'" said Cahill.

  • Some batterers endlessly apologize and theirvictim keeps a flicker of hope alive that things can and will change.
  • Some hold the purse string, making it impossiblefor their victims to leave. Cahill cites examples where victims trying to leaveare blocked from accessing money in joint accounts, whose abuser puts a hold oncredit cards, and who throughout the relationship control all funds.
  • Threats against children, family, and friendsprovider abusers with another control tool, making it difficult for a victim to'just leave'."

"Abuse can only stop if you stop the abuser," shesaid firmly.

So what's a workplace to do?

Given the enormous costs, a business - no matter how small -needs to address the issue. Even the smallest 3-person company can work withlocal agencies and police to craft a policy that includes confidentiality andpractical response. The EADV also provides resources and direction.

Companies hold legal liability as well. For example, OSHAregulations stipulate "a workplace free from recognized hazards" andhas been triggered by non-response to domestic violence -- not just byhazardous chemicals and sharp spinning blades. A spouse making threateningcalls to the workplace is considered a "recognized hazard" - in boththe abuser and the victim's workplaces.

It Happened to Me

"It is a silent killer. Verbal and emotional abuse cankill you," said 'Kelly' standing in front of the group after Cahillprovided the data and putting a face on the reality of the impact and costs ofdomestic violence.

Kelly dated a physically abusive boyfriend in high school,left that behind, and then met and married a man who seemed so nice and was sodifferent from her high school beau.

Through tears, with a voice that started out quivering butsteadily grew stronger as she talked, she told of her initial love for herhusband, and then how over time her reality became surviving and protecting herthree children.  She described spending a22 year marriage kept on a financial allowance gained each time by begging andgroveling for it, and of living with constant verbal and emotional attacks andthreats.

"Make the abusers accountable for their actions,"she told the group. "That's the most important thing we can do."

Death

For 23 people in Massachusetts last year, death wasliteral.  For the past 11 years, thebreakfast has concluded the same way: with lighting of memory candles.

This year, as a member of the Independence House staff readeach name and short history, Hurge-Putnam lit a candle and a volunteer stood tojoin a line at the front of the room.

In the dimmed conference room, candlelight flickeredbrightly, reflecting off the cards printed with the names of the men and womenlost to domestic violence last year. By this light, by the light of 23-lifecandlelight, no one could mistake the cost.

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