What I Learned from Witnessing Domestic Violence the Workplace

“Today, I know how important early education and awareness is to prevention and it can start where we spend the majority of our days – at work.”

Dorinda C. Smith

by guest contributor Dorinda C. Smith.

I’m still trying to understand “domestic violence.” It’s something that’s hard, if not impossible, to comprehend, even if you’ve witnessed it.

Domestic violence is a year ’round problem and each passing week brings more news reports about the latest incidents of abuse against spouses, children, and those in dating relationships. We know instinctively that something is very wrong when incidents of domestic violence come to light. Domestic violence is always brutal and life-altering, and often deadly.

For many involved in a violent relationship, there seems to be no way out. However, their job or place of employment is often the one safe place where a survivor may feel like they can hide from their abuser. Employers have also seen the sobering statistics related to the issue.

Economic Impact

According to statistics reported in Forbes, nearly one quarter of employed women report that domestic violence has affected their work performance at some point in their lives. Each year, an estimated 8 million days of paid work is lost in the U.S. because of domestic violence. Additionally, domestic violence costs $8.3 billion in expenses annually: a combination of higher medical costs ($5.8 billion) and lost productivity ($2.5 billion).

Other statistics show that in the U.S., 24 percent of adult women and 14 percent of adult men have been physically assaulted by a partner at some point in their lives. Domestic violence is also the most common cause of injury for women ages 18 to 44.

My Learning Experiences

I am fortunate to have grown up in a household where domestic violence was a foreign concept, and equally fortunate to have married a man who abhors violence. Others aren’t so lucky. My first experiences with domestic abuse occurred in my early twenties – not to me, but to coworkers. In the first instance, a coworker and friend was pushed by her lover during a dispute. She hit her head, and to this day remains in a vegetative state.

A few years later, another friend showed up to work badly bruised and beaten. When I offered her a place to stay, she refused, insisting that her husband would find her and attack me for interfering. In the worst case of my experience, a woman who worked for me failed to report to work for several days; her husband confessed to her murder and led the police to a well in Goochland County where he had left her body.

During those first experiences with domestic violence, I didn’t necessarily consider myself to be in a position to help. I was somewhat naïve and completely unfamiliar with how to deal with domestic violence. Today, I know how important early education and awareness is to prevention and it can start where we spend the majority of our days – at work.

Resources at Work & in the Community

As an employer, I am fortunate to be in a position where I can help my coworkers now who may be in similar situations. I’m encouraged by the progress being seen within the workplace. Many companies have employee assistance programs where teammates can reach out to discuss any issues they are having at whatever level, completely anonymously. Whether they require medical, financial or police assistance, companies have seen the benefit of providing an avenue for their employees to pursue the help they need.

Some businesses also have created strong women’s networks, which advocate for and engage women by assisting with professional development and leadership, and being intentional about the presence and contribution of women in growing the business. This group’s focus is not solely on domestic abuse, but it does help to empower women in the workplace and put them in touch with many of our community partners, like YWCA Richmond, through volunteer activities. Often, these partnerships can provide survivors with additional avenues to seek assistance.

One specific community program that needs recognition is the Greater Richmond Regional Hotline. It’s a local, collaborative, crisis response system for survivors and allies across the region impacted or affected by domestic, intimate partner, and/or sexual violence. The program operates as a collaborative service by six local agencies: The James House, Project Hope, Safe Harbor, Hanover Safe Place, Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services, and YWCA Richmond.

Although domestic violence is hard to understand, it’s collaborative efforts like this that make a positive impact in our community. Employers throughout the region are also being called to join together for collaborative solutions and progress is being made. When we work together, just think about the number of lives that would be touched or the number that might be saved?

Dorinda Smith is president & CEO of SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. She is also on the board of directors of YWCA Richmond. As a passionate advocate for survivors of domestic violence, Dorinda also assists YWCA Richmond with community outreach efforts to prevent violence and share resources.