Domestic Violence: An Overlooked Barrier to Employment

By Chris Warland, Associate Director of Field Building, Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

mother and daughter (2)

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month draws to a close, it’s important to focus some attention on one of the frequently overlooked consequences of domestic violence: disconnection from work. For many survivors of domestic violence, earned income is critical for becoming financially independent and escaping abusers. Perhaps for this reason, survivors’ attempts to access education, training, or employment are often met with sabotage by their abusers.

There are many ways in which abusive partners interfere with survivors’ attempts to gain education, training and employment. These include throwing away textbooks, refusing rides to school, work, or job interviews, inflicting visible facial wounds prior to work or job interviews, showing up at the survivor’s workplace to harass and disrupt, contacting employers or prospective employers and making false statements, making false accusations to authorities such as child protective services, interfering with child care arrangements, hiding car keys or disabling cars, and even kidnapping survivors and holding them hostage to prevent them from going to work or school. For many recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, domestic violence and interference by abusers makes it nearly impossible to comply with work requirements.

Providing the right services to help survivors of domestic violence access and succeed in employment comes with a unique set of challenges. Issues of safety and confidentiality affect how programs keep records, engage employers, and interact with their communities. There are no easy answers and few established best practices, but some communities are addressing the problem.

One such community is Richmond, Virginia. The YWCA of Richmond, in partnership with the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, a consortium of local domestic violence service agencies, and the Continuum of Care, has implemented a pilot program that uses an Employment Navigator who assists domestic violence survivors in navigating the workforce system, accessing services, and gaining employment. The Navigator also works as an advocate and educator with employment program providers, employers, and other stakeholders about the employment needs of survivors.

The field of workforce development needs to do more to recognize and address domestic violence as a significant and pervasive barrier to employment. Much more attention is needed from program providers, researchers, and policymakers to identify, test, and fund effective practices in helping survivors of domestic violence access employment and achieve economic independence. We believe that developing effective strategies for connecting survivors to employment is a key piece of addressing the problem of domestic violence.

Like what you read? See what are our partners at USICH and the National Alliance to End Homelessness have to say about domestic violence and homelessness:

Ensuring Safety and Stability for Survivors of Domestic Violence
Homelessness and Domestic Violence: What’s the Connection?


About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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