Kentucky Program Helps Employers Support DV Survivors

In December 1993, Mary Byron was shot seven times in the chest and head on her 21st birthday by her former boyfriend. She had been warming her car for the drive home following her shift at Mall St. Matthews in Louisville, Kentucky. Byron’s assailant had been arrested for assaulting and raping her, but someone posted his bail. Byron didn’t know he was out of jail, so she didn’t ask anyone to walk her to her car to make sure she was safe.

Byron’s tragic death is one example of how domestic violence can follow its victims to the workplace; her murder led to the founding of The Mary Byron Project, which started the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) alert system for survivors. The Project’s new WorkSafe program, a joint effort with the Kentucky Commission on Women (KCW) and the Kentucky State Police, focuses specifically on reducing domestic violence in the workplace.

WorkSafe was launched with a $50,000 HopeLine® from Verizon grant, following the KCW Statewide HopeLine Drive, which netted more than 4,400 devices, 125 percent of the drive’s goal. KCW had set a goal of collecting 3,500 devices, one for every night that a Kentucky resident spent in a domestic violence shelter in 2013. With support from Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s office and 18 state agencies, KCW helped place 492 HopeLine collection boxes across the Commonwealth, putting Kentucky at the forefront of addressing domestic violence spillover into the workplace. 

“When a quarter of American women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives, it’s clear that businesses cannot just ignore the problem, hoping it won’t affect their employees,” said Madeline Abramson, KCW Chair. “WorkSafe trains employers how to support employees who are dealing with abuse at home, and how to help keep them and their co-workers safe on the job.”

The first instinct of some employers may be to simply let the abuse victim go in the hope that doing so will get rid of the problem.

“The message that sends to other survivors is, ‘Don’t tell, or you’ll lose your job,’” said Mary Byron Project executive director Marcia Roth. One risk in this approach is that no one will know if an abuser arrives at the workplace, because the victim hasn’t notified her employer to watch for him.

Domestic violence also reduces employee productivity: A 2005 national telephone survey by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence found that 21 percent of full-time employed adults were victims of domestic violence and 64 percent of them indicated their work performance was significantly impacted. WorkSafe can help improve productivity by helping employees feel safer.

“Many women who become domestic violence victims have few outside contacts, making co-workers the first choice for advice and comfort,” Roth said. “WorkSafe helps equip workplaces with the tools and language to provide support and resources to victims, and helps employers understand why it’s in their best interest to have policies addressing domestic abuse. The goal is to help businesses of all sizes create safer workplaces while reducing the economic, legal and productivity risks in the workplace that are associated with domestic violence.”

The KCW Statewide HopeLine Drive was launched at the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and lasted through November 30. Collection sites included local offices of 18 state government agencies, 29 University of Kentucky fraternities and sororities, family court and car licensing offices and several small businesses. The 24 KCW Commissioners also took HopeLine collection boxes with them to events across the state during the drive.

HopeLine turns no-longer-used wireless devices and accessories into cash grants and other support for domestic violence programs nationwide. Including this grant, Verizon has given more than $158,000 for domestic violence prevention and response in Kentucky in 2014.

Lauren Love-Wright is president of Verizon Wireless’ Kentucky, Michigan and Indiana region.