SPAN fights stigma of domestic violence

BOULDER — Domestic violence will strike one in four women in the United States during the course of her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving behind a cascade of emotional, financial and legal repercussions. For many, these repercussions spill from the home into the workplace, resulting in lost or impaired productivity that can affect the bottom line for employer and employee alike.

Since 1979, the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, or SPAN, has provided services to victims of domestic violence in Boulder and Broomfield counties as well as education to area businesses, schools and community members. Shedding light on the still-stigmatized subject can help end the cycle of violence, said Anne Tapp, executive director for SPAN.

Domestic violence by a partner accounts for nearly one-third of all women killed while on the job, Tapp said, an alarming statistic in extreme cases of abuse and one no business could miss. For most, the consequences of domestic violence in the workplace are more subtle, yet far reaching.

“Probably more significant for employers is the loss of work time for survivors who are missing work because of injuries or dealing with the legal or criminal issues that arise from domestic violence,” Tapp said. It’s also common for abusers to harass or intimidate victims while the victims are at work through phone calls or text messages, she said. One study showed 87 percent of women who experienced domestic violence received such calls at work, according to the Maine Department of Labor and Family Crisis Services.

Dealing with the aftereffects of a physically, emotionally or psychologically abusive relationship can impact employee productivity, too, costing $727.8 million in lost work time annually, according to the CDC. Colorado has a domestic-abuse leave law, of which Tapp said many employers are unaware.

These sobering statistics impact an employer’s bottom line, said Alexandra Lynch, development director for SPAN, but a commitment to a healthy and safe work environment drives many employers to give voice to domestic violence issues.

“Most companies, most of us see our work environment as just below ‘home’,” Lynch said. “Those people are part of our family, and it matters that they are OK, and it just makes for a better organization.”

Still, less than 30 percent of U.S. workplaces have an official policy addressing violence, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, thereby leaving concerned employees without a clear path when confronted with domestic-violence issues.

“Businesses can take steps to educate employees around how to talk to a friend or coworker that they have concerns about,” Lynch said. SPAN offers brown-bag lunch seminars on domestic violence. Defining domestic violence and sexual harassment, followed by making clear what respectful boundaries are in the workplace, can help begin the dialogue, she said.

“It can be as simple as a line of response saying, ‘If you’re concerned, here’s who you talk to’,” Tapp said.

Women of all races and religions and across income levels are impacted by domestic violence, Tapp said. Men are abused, too, she said, although the majority of domestic-violence survivors are women or children. The stigma related to domestic violence keeps many silent.

“It may prevent them from reaching out for fear of being seen as weak or stupid, and there is a whole array of blame and shame that can happen toward survivors,” Tapp said. This can be particularly true for women in leadership roles within a company who are being abused at home, she said. Some survivors worry that disclosing the abuse will put their job at risk. Workplace policies condemning abuse and harassment can help diffuse this fear, she said.

SPAN receives nearly 9,000 crisis calls each year and provides direct services to more than 2,300 adults and children coming from abusive situations. Services include immediate housing for those fleeing abuse and transitional housing. SPAN provides legal advocacy, and while these services are essential, addressing the emotional trauma left in an abuser’s wake can be the most challenging.

“You can’t just slap a Band-Aid on them and send them back into the world,” Lynch said. “There has to be long-term advocacy and support” such as counseling.

In addition to educational seminars for businesses on domestic violence, SPAN can help interested employers find other resources to assist employees.

Many SPAN services are provided by well-trained volunteers. Long-time SPAN volunteer and current board chairwoman Judy Knapp has done everything from taking crisis calls to fundraising for the organization. She believes in the work SPAN does and said many people don’t realize the depth or breadth of distress brought on by abuse.

SPAN’s mission is to offer services to victims and education to area organizations and businesses, Knapp said, but it also offers an opportunity for businesses to provide service to SPAN through donations or partnerships.

“I don’t think you can think of a better organization to help women out,” Knapp said.

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