The impact of intimate partner violence on employment

January 16, 2022
Lieran Docherty

Domestic and dating violence, or intimate partner violence, has a long term impact on women’s economic security. A lack of economic security can prevent a woman from leaving an abusive relationship and make it difficult to establish safety and financial independence. One of the ways that intimate partner violence affects women’s economic security is by impacting their ability to find and maintain employment.

Survivors may be prevented from working by an abuser. It is also common for an abuser to make it difficult for a survivor to get to work and maintain their employment.[i] These controlling behaviours are often referred to as employment sabotage. Employment sabotage can look like hiding a survivor’s car keys or starting an argument before work.[ii] It also looks like an abuser refusing to care for children while the survivor is at work and restricting access to alternative childcare.[iii] Employment sabotage shows up in the workplace, too. Survivors may receive excessive phone calls and text messages to the workplace or may experience stalking in and around the workplace.[iv] The sabotage tactics might start to involve co-coworkers. Lies told to co-workers by an abusive partner, such as claiming that the survivor stole from the company, can be used to damage the survivor’s employment or career progression.[v]

While there is a very little research into the impact of trauma on employment, there is some evidence to show that trauma from violence impacts the survivors’ ability to gain and sustain employment.[vi] The effects of trauma, like anxiety and depression, can impact a survivor’s performance and advancement at work.[vii] Knowing the long term effects of trauma, it could potentially impact a survivor’s job stability or career progression for many years.

The constant disruption, stress and harassments felt by a survivor can lead to a survivor missing work as well as reduced productivity when they are there. Because of this, intimate partner violence can be associated with career gaps, underemployment, and a loss of earnings.[viii] It can also lead to job loss. In some some cases, survivors may quit their employment because of feelings of shame associated with being a victim of violence or embarrassment over the abuser’s stalking or harassment in and around the workplace.[ix] In other causes, survivors may lose their jobs because of the number of missed days or the poor productivity and performance.[x]

However, the relationship between intimate partner violence and employment is complicated. For some survivors, violence spills over into the workplace. For other survivors, the workplace can be a place of safety or escape. Furthermore, employment is an important source of financial independence for survivors. This is why it is frequently targeted by abusers. These challenges can be further compounded by the structural barriers to employment that survivors face. For example, racialized women with experiences of violence face additional systemic barriers to equal pay and decent work.

With the increased risk of intimate partner violence and the fundamental shift to how we work amid the pandemic, it is vital that we we understand the changing realities faced by survivors.

The Intersections between employment and safety among racialized women project is undertaking research to understand racialized women’s experiences in employment and how these are impacted by experiences of intimate partner violence. The project will be undertaking primary research with survivors well as work with employment agencies and employers to improve policies and practice.

[i] Showalter, K. (2016). Women’s employment and domestic violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 31(01), 37-47.

[ii] Swanberg, J. E., Logan, T., and Macke, C. (2005). Intimate partner violence, employment and the workplace: consequences and future directions. Trauma, violence and abuse, 6(4), 286-312.

[iii] Hess, C; Del Rosario, A. (2018). Dreams Deferred: A Survey on the Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Survivors’ Education, Careers, and Economic Security. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

[iv] Logan, T.K., Shannon, L., Cole, J., and Swanberg, J. (2007) Partner stalking and implications for women’s employment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(3),268-91.

[v] Moe, A.M and Bell, M.P. (2004). Abject Economics: The effects of battering and violence on women’s work and employability. Violence against Women, 10(01), 29- 55.

[vi] Riger, S. and Staggs, S. (2004). Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Labor Force Participation, Final Report. National Institute of Justice, United States. Available at: https://nij.ojp.gov/library/publications/impact-intimate-partner-violence-womens-labor-force-participation-final-report

[vii] Showalter, 2016.

[viii] Tolman, R. M., & Raphael, J. (2000). A review of research on welfare and domestic violence. Journal of Social Issues, 56(4), 655-682.

[ix] Swanberg, Logan and Macke, 2005.

[x] Showalter, 2016.

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