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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

How can economic justice efforts lead to the prevention of sexual and domestic violence?

Friday, August 07, 2020

By staff of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence

This TAQ explores 3 key strategies for furthering the prevention of sexual and domestic violence through economic justice. Brooke Ophardt, Cierra Bryant, and Nikki Kress offer their unique voices in 3 parts, connecting their own experiences to the importance of developing and promoting 1) microloans, 2) lactation policies to support breast/chest feeding, and 3) economic security and equal pay policies as sustainable economic justice strategies to dismantle power-based violence.

Part 1: Microloans to Prevent Domestic and Sexual Violence

By Brooke Ophardt, Training & Prevention Specialist

A microloan is usually a loan of a smaller amount (most are around $1,000 for individuals) that can be used for a whole host of reasons and can have multiple benefits.

Before discussing how microloans can prevent domestic and sexual violence, we should look at some of the risk factors that can increase the likelihood that intimate partner violence will occur. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) breaks down the economic risk factors for domestic and sexual violence with a multi-level approach:

  • Individual: Unemployment and/or low income
  • Relationship: Economic stress
  • Community: Poverty and associated factors, like high unemployment rates
  • Societal: Patriarchal gender norms around employment

As we know, intimate partner violence is a power-based issue. Microloans can be effective for both prevention and intervention. To enhance prevention initiatives, policies and programs that improve economic security and stability, and provide socio-economically challenged individuals with opportunities to strengthen their education, employment, and income outcomes through microloans, can reduce the power imbalances across multiple levels of the socioecological model, which will ultimately decrease the likelihood that violence will occur. On the intervention side, microloans have been used to help victims and survivors with costs associated with going back to school, moving away from their abuser, obtaining transportation, or starting a small business. They have also been used to help build credit with victims/survivors of domestic and sexual violence who have had their credit ruined by their abuser. One survivor’s experience with a credit-building microloan has been transformative:

“I brought my score up over 100 points. When I started it was like a 403. It’s (sic) now a 676. I applied for a loan for a house and was approved all because I built my credit by paying this loan back on time monthly.” – Survivor*  

It is imperative that intervention and prevention work hand-in-hand. Microloans can prevent violence by helping folks strengthen their economic stability through offering an economic tool to be used to increase their likelihood of obtaining education, real estate, and other factors that strengthen economic security and stability. Quite simply, microloans can contribute to preventing domestic and sexual violence by reducing the economic power imbalances that exist in our society.

Part 2: Breast/Chest Feeding Our Way to Economic Justice

By Cierra Bryant, Rape Prevention Education (RPE) Policy Specialist  

I was pregnant with my first child during the second half of 2008. I was working for a private employer who owned a franchise that sold furniture and other household items. While the company was small (less than 50 employees) and exempt from most regulations related to the Family and Medical Act (FMLA), they offered to hold my position (unpaid) for three months after delivery, and they did the best they could with making accommodations regarding my desire to breastfeed my child and, therefore, the need to express breastmilk during working hours.

I was offered the use of a private bathroom that was directly off the office of my boss, the owner of the company. This was the only space in the entire building where I had the ability to:

  1. Lock a door behind me,
  2. Have access to a counter-space within reach, and
  3. Sit (on a toilet with a lid, unlike the other public-use toilets in the building).

At the time, I remember feeling that I was quite lucky to be able to have these accommodations! I was able to pump in a space that was private and locked, and even though it was a bathroom I knew it was used by no more than three people (me becoming the third).

Only when I changed jobs and began to work for a larger organization did I realize how limited my expectations were. My new employer built specific rooms for breastfeeding with sinks, chairs, and locks that let you know whether the room was occupied! Just seeing the space made me recognize that while my former employer did the best they could, it really could have been better.

Intimate partner violence can lead to lower probabilities of starting or continuing breast feeding. Lactation policies can be a crucial strategy to reducing violence and improving workplace outcomes. At first glance, policies like these may not indicate a direct correlation to the prevention of intimate partner and domestic violence; however, policies that increase equity within a space can serve as protective factors against intimate partner and domestic violence. Lactation policies in the workplace are a great example of how policies can promote equity and economic justice to help combat power-based violence.

Too often after delivering a child, parents in the workforce face the difficult decision of returning to work or leaving the workforce to parent full time. This decision arises in part due to workplaces not providing conducive environments for breastfeeding and chest feeding parents.

For a lactating parent to return to work comfortably, their place of employment needs to offer spaces to breast/chest feed and pump that are clean, private, can lock when occupied, have refrigerators to store milk, and are not located in a restroom or at a workstation. Places of employment also need policies that allow for lactation breaks throughout the day that are paid and do not take away from the pay that the employee is entitled to.

The absence of lactation policies discourages breast/chest feeding parents from returning to work out of concern that they may not have desirable time or space to pump comfortably at work – a concern that leads some parents to not return to work at all after giving birth, stripping them of their economic independence. Breast/chest feeding parents that return to work after childbirth may be at risk for termination due to the frequency of lactation breaks that take place throughout the day – breaks that some employers may believe reduces company productivity.

Breast and chest feeding policies can support both intervention and prevention initiatives. For example, survivors of domestic violence may feel forced to remain in an abusive partnership due to not having the financial resources to support themselves and their children if they leave the abusive partner. Breast/chest feeding policies can support survivors through increasing their chance to comfortably remain in the workforce to support themselves financially. This financial independence protects survivors from having to rely on what may be an abusive partner, for housing, finances, and other support. From a prevention lens, these policies can contribute to equitable environments, thus decreasing power imbalances that allow violence to occur in the first place.

Part 3: Economic Security and Equal Pay Policies

By Nikki Kress, Rape Prevention Education (RPE) Program Manager

When I was in college I participated in an internship that led me to enter into the field of work that I am in today. My professor was doing research that involved interviewing and conducting focus groups with sex workers. The goal of the research was to help the local court system develop a program that would provide sex workers with opportunities to receive lesser sentences and phase out of the criminal justice system by receiving helpful resources instead harmful criminal sentences. During this internship I participated in several windshield surveys, a process where interviewers visit a specific location in hopes of being able to document and capture the voices of those about whom studies are being done. There was another student who was also participating in this survey with me.

My professor had an existing relationship with a local counseling center that was in support of the program and wanted to help in the research efforts. After connecting with some of the staff at the center and talking about logistics, plans were developed to begin our first survey trial. From around 10pm until approximately 1am, I would head out in the counseling van with my fellow student intern, a former self-identified sex worker who worked at the counseling center, and another employee of the counseling agency. We would drive around the city and hand out condoms and hygiene products to the sex workers. The former self-identified sex worker who worked for the counseling center had a relationship with all of the people we would interact with. She knew the spots to drive by, the people to talk to, and the people not to talk to. Each time we stopped she would explain (to the sex workers) about the project my classmate and I were working on. Sometimes we were able to get out of the van and interview the willing participants in our research. Of course, other times our research was not well received. 

One of the questions that we asked sex workers was, “What led you to do this work?” Some answers included: “Because this is what I need to do to feed my family,” or “This is my only choice.” A few of the sex workers mentioned that they faced traumatic events in their lives including sexual violence and domestic violence. As I heard firsthand from many of the individuals I spoke with, sex work can be a dangerous way to earn an income due to lack of protections for the sex work industry.

We also recognize and affirm that sex work is an individual’s choice and is a valid form of work, and these responses do not reflect all of the reasons a person chooses to go into sex work. We have to remember that in order to prevent violence from occurring, we have to consider the risk factors that may be associated with people’s use of violence rather than looking at the victims and survivors, including sex workers who may experience violence. Access to sustainable financial resources and workforce protections, including for sex workers, are components that would contribute to the prevention of power-based forms of violence, including domestic and sexual violence (Prevention Institute, 2019).

The Delaware Coalition against Domestic Violence (DCADV) is currently collaborating with community partners to host an economic justice summit that brings together corporations, banks, and the financial sector within Delaware to talk about the intersections of domestic and sexual violence and finances. The goal of the summit is to educate attendees on the relationship between violence and the role that financial resources play in an individual’s ability to have more equitable access to the economy. We will also be discussing how stable economic situations contribute to an individual’s ability to support themselves and their families without having to rely on an abusive partner. DCADV hopes to bring forth various policies and best practices to the summit to show that prevention is possible. It is in everyone’s best interest to promote healthy workplace policies, such as equal pay, so that our communities can thrive and violence can be eliminated.

Editor’s Note: The intersections of economic, racial and gender justice

Strengthening economic supports and security for women and families is a key strategy and approach to preventing sexual and intimate partner violence. Economic justice lives at the intersections of racial and gender justice and is foundational to creating the outcomes we wish to see. And the change we wish to see is only possible if we prioritize and value Black lives. Research shows that Black women experience poverty at higher rates than Black men and women from other racial/ethnic groups. Black women’s median annual earnings also lag behind most women’s and men’s earnings in the United States. Additionally, about 28 percent of employed Black women work in the service industry – occupational group with the lowest wages and often lacking important benefits such as paid sick days (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017). Black people, Indigenous people, and other person(s) of color are overrepresented in homeless populations due to structural racism, historical measures, network impoverishment, and other racial disparities across systems. Our work to end gender-based violence is thus intrinsically linked to economic and racial justice, including anti-poverty work, utility rights, housing rights, wage equity, health equity, employment rights, voter rights, and efforts to closing the digital divide, among others.

For more information:

Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 2017) – Includes a section on strengthening economic supports for families as a key strategy to prevent intimate partner violence.

A Strong Economic Foundation: A Preventative Approach to SV/IPV (May 8, 2020) – This webinar by the Delaware Coalition against Domestic Violence (DCADV) explored how economic justice initiatives are an integral part of our work to prevent sexual and intimate partner violence (SV/IPV). Recordings of additional prevention-related webinars from DCADV are available here.

PreventConnect Web Conference – Messaging the Connections: Explaining the links between strengthening economic supports and preventing sexual and intimate partner violence (July 28, 2020) – Strengthening economic supports and security for women and families is one strategy and approach to preventing not only sexual and intimate partner violence, but also suicide, child abuse, and neglect, and adverse childhood experiences. Guests from Ujima, Inc. and Family Forward North Carolina discuss how messaging these linkages is crucial to gain buy-in and engage partners.

PreventConnect Web Conference – Getting Started on Supporting Economic Opportunities for Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention (November 28, 2018) – Research shows that improving financial security and economic opportunities may reduce risk for sexual and domestic violence. This web conference highlights the emerging work in Ohio and Alaska focused on increasing economic opportunities for prevention as part of their DELTA Impact work and partnerships.

VAWnet Special Collection: Building Credit and Assets: Helping Survivors Recover from Economic Abuse (March 2016) – This special collection explores credit, asset building, and Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), their intersections, and how they can be leveraged to better support economic justice for survivors of domestic violence.

NRCDV Report: The Difference Between Surviving and Not Surviving: Public Benefits Programs and Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims’ Economic Security (January 2018) – This report details barriers survivors encounter when trying to access public benefits programs, cross-sector collaboration and systems-level advocacy, and possible legislative changes to these critical programs.

Safe Housing Partnerships: The need for safe and affordable housing is one of the most vital and immediate concerns for survivors of violence and abuse. Safe Housing Partnerships, the website for the Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium, offers resources and tools to advance your work at the critical intersection of domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, and housing.

The Independence Project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence – Through the Independence Project, advocates and local domestic violence programs across the nation can support survivors of domestic violence in improving their credit scores through micro-lending.

The Allstate Foundation’s domestic violence program (formerly Purple Purse) works to create a society where women are empowered. Available in English and Spanish, their Moving Ahead Curriculum is a five-module program that has been academically validated to help prepare survivors as they move from short-term safety to long-term security. 

*Direct quote from survivor interviewed by Brooke Ophardt for an academic paper. In Ophardt, B. (2019). The Effects of a Credit-Building Microloan Program for Domestic Violence Survivors