Along with housing and counseling, economic security is often reported as a top need of survivors seeking safety. Stable employment and the ability to support one’s family is a key factor in whether a survivor is able to leave an abusive relationship. For survivors who need to improve their skills or pursue new careers, workforce development programs can provide an important path to economic security and safety.
Unfortunately, research indicates that intimate partner violence (IPV) can impede job training participants’ ability to enroll in and complete programs. A 1997 survey of 30 program participants in Bergen County, New Jersey found that, among those who reported abuse, 47 percent said their partners were not supportive of their educational pursuits and 40 percent had partners who actively impeded their participation. The recent Intimidation and Intimate Partner Violence Screening project in Cincinnati detected interference tactics that abusers commonly use, ranging from discouraging enrollment and participation, to using physical violence to deter attendance. Other studies find that IPV escalates when a survivor is enrolled in education or training. In a study interviewing 122 women in a Pennsylvania job training program, the attrition rate for victims was six times higher than for women not facing IPV.
While many IPV service providers have developed trauma-informed and responsive job training programs for survivors, the majority of vocational opportunities are offered by nonprofit and government agencies that may not have this lens. Without policies that promote survivor safety and address common barriers and trauma-informed program design many programs may create unintentional obstacles that impede the success of participants who have faced or are facing abuse.
How Workforce Development Programs Can Support Survivors of Violence: Program Interview
Economic Security for Survivors project (ESS) staff interviewed Erika Yingling, Director of Family and Community Intervention at the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, to learn how domestic violence service providers can engage workforce development agencies and employers.
ESS: Why should workforce development address survivor needs?
Erika: According to the National Center for Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience a form of physical violence by an intimate partner, making universal screening a must in all areas of community and health based work. IPV significantly affects the financial well-being of victims, and social isolation is a tool used by abusers to maintain control over their partner. Hence, women and men who seek to better their educational and employment opportunities are often hindered in doing so due to the abuser’s efforts.
ESS: What additional factors must workforce development programs consider when serving survivors and how can services be trauma informed?
Erika: Workforce development programs must be trained in identifying and screening for IPV. Other factors to take into consideration are the gender of the person screened and the screener, the environment in which the screen is conducted, and the screeners’ knowledge of appropriate responses and community resources. Furthermore, lethality risk and knowledge of these incredibly important indicators must be taken into consideration when working with any client who has experienced a form of gender-based violence. It is important for the screener and agency conducting the screen to be supportive, empathetic, and nonjudgmental in their responses. In addition, a trauma informed response to victims of violence requires the agency as a whole to be trauma informed in all of their work with community members and their own employees.
ESS: Recognizing the prevalence of workplace harassment and its impact on survivors, how can you help prepare them to be safe and thrive in these programs and in the workplace?
Erika: A victim service agency can aid in the preparation of individualized safety plans for a victim experiencing IPV and work with the partner agency to make sure this plan is carried out in order to promote safety. All workplaces should be knowledgeable about the signs of domestic violence and laws that protect survivors in the workplace. The YWCA works directly with various employers to train staff on safety and legal issues as they relate to domestic violence in the workplace. More so, state coalitions like the Ohio Domestic Violence Network can aid in referral, technical assistance and legal remedies for victims who may experience discrimination. A multidisciplinary and coordinated community response to domestic violence in the workplace is best practice.