8/1/2007 8:59:00 PM
Disabusing the abusersDomestic violence seminar focuses on the office
by Richard Greenberg, Associate Editor
Domestic abuse is not confined to the home. Its tentacles can reach almost anywhere, including the workplace.
Which is why a dozen listeners gathered last Thursday in a decidedly upscale workplace-the sprawling, 11th-floor offices of Bingham McCutchen, a K Street law firm that employs more than 300 people.
The attendees, all employees of the firm, assembled in a sleek, Scandinavian-style conference room to hear how they can combat domestic abuse a phenomenon that is chronic, pervasive and crosses all socioeconomic lines, according to Lora Griff, a licensed social worker with the Rockville-based Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.
Thursday's session, conducted by Griff, was the kickoff of JCADA's Corporate Wellness Program, under which local businesses are invited to sponsor JCADA-organized seminars. The new initiative is an opportunity not only to spread the word about domestic violence, but for JCADA to expand its fund-raising base, according to organization representatives.
Bingham McCutchen paid $2,500 to host Thursday's session, which was arranged with the help of David Butler, a partner at the law firm and whose wife, Sharon, is a JCADA board member.
Until now, most JCADA workshops have been conducted at synagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions. They often donate money to JCADA in response to the organization's requests but the contribution usually is considerably less than $2,500 per session. The Corporate Wellness Program is JCADA's first concerted programatic foray outside the Jewish community.
JCADA's treasurer, Ellen Haber, said that although the Corporate Wellness Program was created primarily to help raise awareness about domestic abuse, "money is a factor for every nonprofit in the United States, so, yes, that's part of our approach, too."
The caseload of JCADA, whose current budget is about $225,000, has mushroomed in the past few years, and in the process, the notion that Jews are immune from domestic abuse has been exploded, Griff told the listeners Thursday. No segment of society is untouched by this scourge, she added, explaining that domestic abuse can take many forms.
It can involve everything from physical violence to economic intimidation to psychological assaults to forced isolation. The male spouse is almost always the perpetrator, and he often begins his abusive behavior years earlier as a teenage dater.
The resultant toll, said Griff, is enormous in terms of injury, death and other types of trauma, as well as lost workplace productivity. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that domestic violence accounts for $727 million annually in reduced worker output the result of absenteeism and tardiness, among other factors. Worksite murders by abusive spouses-turned-stalkers are not uncommon.
Several audience members nodded when Griff asked if any of them had encountered domestic abuse firsthand. "These are not stereotypes or fakes or fantasies; they are very, very real," said attendee Sonja Minor, a 48-year-old legal secretary who lives in Forestville, Md. "I can talk for hours on this."
Minor said a co-worker at her former place of employment in Washington was married for seven years to an abusive, "psychotically insane" man who eventually threatened his spouse with a knife at a colleague's going-away party. The husband was taken into custody. The woman and her four small children then relocated to Georgia, where she got a new job "and did very well for herself," said Minor. "There is a need for programs like this one; they really work."
Griff told the audience members that when they see a friend or acquaintance who exhibits signs of physical or emotional abuse, they should gently and confidentially approach that person, comfort her, provide support and ultimately encourage her to seek help.
Victims who are planning on leaving an abusive relationship, she said, should develop a "safety plan" that includes preparation of a "flight kit" that includes money, documents, extra car keys and clothes. It should be hidden in a safe place.
Employers can do many things to guard against domestic abuse and to help accommodate its victims. They include:
• Making sure that the workplace has a detailed domestic-abuse response program.
• Referring abused employees to appropriate resources.
• Enabling victims to take time off from work to attend to abuse-related needs.