During a meeting with the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Parnell asked leading business members to take an active role at combating DV and sexual assault in their workplaces.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault are invisible marauders in the workplace,” Parnell told business leaders, adding that employers have a role to play in recognizing and stopping Alaska’s epidemic of abuse against women and children. According to Parnell, businesses are uniquely placed to offer protection and aid to victims of domestic violence, and encouraged them to do so not only out of moral compassion, but enlightened self interest.
While the true cost of domestic violence is “impossible to quantify” in real dollars, Gov. Parnell did offer some estimates to outline the economic impact of domestic abuse. Nationally, he says, sexual violence against adults costs an average of $127 billion per year; intimate partner violence, an average of $19 billion per year, and the indirect costs of all child abuse nationally roughly $90 billion per year. “Think unexplained absences or inability to concentrate. Think lost productivity. Sick leave. Medical care, mental health services, chronic health problems,” he said, in addition to the staggering amount of taxpayer dollars that go to deal with the consequences of abuse.
But rather than punishing victims, or causing them to lose their job for performance issues that may be abuse-related, Gov. Parnell urged business leaders to support victims, and provide them with access to resources that can help them to stay safe. He asked them to link his “Choose Respect” website (see link above) from their homepage, and to also include resources and links to agencies involved in helping women and children in crisis.
Realistically, the governor admits these measures are only treating the “symptoms” of a phenomenon, not the cause. In order to truly protect victims of domestic violence, the governor said, Alaska needs to change its tolerance level for abuse against women and children, and he likened the need to transform people’s thinking to the social shifts that have in the past taken place with respect to people’s opinions about littering, smoking in public and drunk driving. Still, Gov. Parnell remains hopeful that by enacting simple, workplace-based measures to help assist victims and raise awareness of domestic violence, such radical social changes can eventually be achieved.
From a domestic violence perspective, Gov. Parnell’s proposals are significant because they not only include proactive, actionable steps to help support victims of domestic violence (e.g. increasing access to DV resources, and helping victims keep their jobs), but also outline the importance of raising awareness of DV, and helping change the culture and conversation on the subjects of DV and sexual assault. Even among people who know that violence and abuse are wrong, many who witness (or experience) abuse are reluctant to speak out; sometimes out of fear of reprisals, but often out of fear that they simply will not be believed–or that even if they are believed, that nothing will be done about it. As Gov. Parnell explains, domestic violence is tolerated in part because social conventions permit it.
While bystander indifference does not, by any means, cause relationships to become violent, it does send the message (both to victim and perpetrator alike) that people who batter their partners can do so at a whim, with no fear of reprisal or social intervention:
- Every time a passerby pretends not to see a “lovers spate” that’s come to blows, we send a message that violence (maybe just “some”) is “to be expected” in some relationships.
- Anytime a neighbor decides that the noises from next door are “none of their business,” we send a message that DV is “a private matter,” that should not be discussed or confronted openly.
Every time we ignore an opportunity to reject violence, and speak out against abuse, we unwittingly succumb to–and perpetuate–a culture that is permissive and tolerant of relationship abuse.
FVPC sponsors community education programs that not only promote healthy relationship behaviors among teens and young adults, but also help bystanders to understand their role in creating a culture of understanding and action. The hope is that by teaching young people appropriate relationship skills, we can prevent young men and women from becoming victims, or abusive partners, themselves. And by teaching the general public to speak out in defense of victims who are being abused, we can create a society where abusers begin to understand their behavior is unacceptable and has real consequences, and where victims feel safe enough to speak out, knowing they will be heard, protected, and believed.
To learn more about domestic violence, and how you can become involved in creating a culture of belief and mutual respect, call our hotline at (919) 929-7122, or visit our website at www.fvpcoc.org.