Time for action to assist domestic violence victims

By Ellen Alper

The National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis Section (NCJW) would like to commend State Sen. Gina Walsh, D-26thDistrict, for her leadership and vision in sponsoring Senate Bill 367, and to commend State Representative Jill Schupp, D-88thDistrict, and her nine co-sponsors, for sponsoring the companion House Bill 946, which would provide workplace security for victims of domestic violence when they need to take time off work, without pay, in order to appear in court or secure medical attention for themselves or their family.  

SB 367/HB 946 are near and dear to our hearts, having worked in the domestic and sexual violence arena for over 50 years. Currently, NCJW runs a Microlending program for victims of domestic violence to help them move from financial dependence to independence and are proud to have several Missouri legislators on our advisory board for the project. Since a job leads directly to financial security, and helping women move forward is our goal, this legislation can positively impact the lives of these women and their families. 


Too often, victims of domestic violence must appear numerous times in court for orders of protection and other legal matters, which typically are scheduled during the traditional workday.  This places a heavy burden on the employee to find time to appear when needed in court, or in seeking medical or counseling treatments; maintaining employment is essential in helping the victim move toward financial independence as they recover from domestic violence.

Statistics tell us that most women moving from shelters are working in minimum wage jobs, where no benefits of any kind are provided.  Needing to take off work to get a court order for protection, develop safety plans and even to seek medical care for injuries suffered at the hands of an abuser can cost these women their jobs.  Oftentimes, work is the escape that allows them to cope with their situation, return to a normal life, and move on from their past.  Denying them the opportunity to take care of themselves and risk losing their job in the process leaves women with an impossible situation—safety and security or poverty and the unknown.

By affording workplace protections that include leave without pay, this places no burden on employers other than covering for the time off.  Women are required to show proof to their employer that they were  in court or obtaining another service, and they are asked to provide advance notice, unless in the case of extreme emergency and/or imminent danger.  We feel that this legislation provides a win-win situation for the women and their employers because we know the following information:

1. The loss of earnings for victims of domestic violence totals almost $18 million per year, while the cost to employers—from absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased security, and increased medical costs—totals approximately $5 billion per year (Helfrich and Rivera, 2006; Moe and Bell, 2004).

2. Women often choose to stay in abusive relationships because economic self-sufficiency seems impossible (Helfrich and Rivera, 2006)—this legislation will help remove that barrier.

3. Missouri programs assisted 16,747 adults seeking Ex Parte, Full Orders of Protection, or child orders—domestic violence impacts the lives of 1 in 4 women—we need to protect them(MCADSV, 2011 statistics).

Empowering women by protecting their jobs will have a tremendous impact on their recovery.  Empowerment affords the person who has been battered the opportunity to see herself as a strong survivor who can participate actively in pursuing a life free from violence (MCADSV, 2013).  Knowing that she is protected in the workplace allows her to concentrate on life after violence:  a secure home, a safety plan, medical care to move forward both physically and emotionally, and the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It also allows her to work to the best of her ability, providing her employer with an employee committed to excel in the workplace because there are no other distractions.

The goal of the Missouri Victims Employment Safety and Security Act is to protect victims of domestic violence, and their families, by ensuring their employment will not be in jeopardy while they are obtaining a variety of recovery services. Secure employment allows the victims peace of mind while they work to recover from an act of domestic violence.

In addition to obtaining Orders of Protection against their abuser, victims need a myriad of other services in order to recover fully. Victims should be able to obtain these services without fear of losing their employment.

It is critical that we come together to provide the proper support system for survivors and their families.  This legislation can be groundbreaking for our state in sending the message to victims that we care; we support their recovery, and will assist them on the road back.

NCJW has worked for many years on behalf of economic justice for all women, but especially for victims of domestic violence through our Higher Ground initiative. SB367/HB946 would play an essential role in assuring that victims can pursue court or medical appointments without fear of losing their employment or seniority positions. Testimony on Senate Bill 367 was heard on Tuesday, March 26 in the Senate committee chaired by State Sen. John Lamping (R-24th) of Ladue.  On behalf of NCJW and our 5,000 members and supporters in Missouri, we urge Sen. Lamping and his committee to pass SB 367 and move it forward to a floor vote in the State Senate, and we urge that HB 946 be expeditiously heard and moved forward as well.  Victims of domestic violence should not be deterred from pursuing their legal remedies and medical needs because of fear of losing their employment.  This legislation will provide a better employee and a safer workplace for all.

Ellen Alper is Executive Director of National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis Section.