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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

Why is it important to create survivor-centered workplaces in the gender-based violence (GBV) movement?

Monday, November 29, 2021

By Tannia Ventura (she/her), Director of Service Provider Engagement and Education and Amy Durrence (she/her), Director of Systems Change Initiatives, FreeFrom

1 in 2 service providers working in the GBV movement is a survivor themselves. This means that supporting service providers is supporting survivors. Organizations that are part of the GBV movement have a responsibility and an opportunity to support the survivors on their staff on their healing journey by creating survivor-centered workplaces that help staff stay employed and support their financial security and long-term safety. Here, we outline actionable recommendations for how organizations can start building survivor-centered workplaces.

Understanding the Problem:

Financial insecurity is the #1 obstacle to safety for survivors

In the United States, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 2 trans folks are subjected to IPV. Being subjected to IPV is not only traumatic; it’s also incredibly expensive.

Making matters worse, 99% of survivors are also subjected to economic abuse, which occurs when harm-doers control survivors’ access to financial resources – from controlling survivors’ bank accounts, to stealing money and property from survivors, and interfering with their ability to have a job or earn an income. In fact, up to 60% of survivors are forced to leave their job as a result of IPV.

In 2020, we (FreeFrom) asked 1,300 survivors of GBV from across the U.S. how much economic abuse was costing them. Here’s what we learned:

  • $1,280: Harm-doers steal an average of $1,280 from survivors each month
  • $1,090: Harm-doers restrict survivors’ freedom to spend on average an additional $1,090 of their own money as they see fit each month
  • $15,936: Harm-doers incur an average of $15,936 in coerced or fraudulent debt in survivors’ names each year
  • $17,770: Harm-doers incur an average of $17,770 in property damage costs for survivors each year
  • $23,076: Survivors lose out on an average of $23,076 of income each year

And the costs of economic abuse are higher for BIPOC survivors. For example, BIPOC survivors have only $407 to spend as they see fit compared to $634 for white survivors.

The cost of abuse is so high that safety simply isn’t an option for many people. In fact, 84% of survivors say that not having enough money to support themselves or their children is their #1 barrier to safety.

This means that the key to long-term safety for survivors is financial security.

Service providers working in the GBV movement are facing the same costs and barriers to financial security as the survivors they support

1 in 2 IPV service providers identifies as a survivor, and 2 out of 3 report being subjected to some form of economic abuse.

I have bad credit from being with my last partner. My credit is better, but I’m still making repairs on my credit, and I know because I used to be married to that person, when my credit comes up, sometimes they reflect [his].” – IPV service provider in the Los Angeles area

As a result, service providers also face significant obstacles to financial security. For example:

  • 47% of direct services staff and managers/supervisors have a high probability of struggling to make ends meet (for example: experiencing housing or food insecurity)
  • 21% of direct services staff and managers/supervisors have only about $250 in savings
  • $7,605: the average amount of credit card debt among IPV staff
  • $47,911: the average amount of student loan debt among staff

The GBV movement isn’t currently able to prioritize the financial security of service providers and staff

Making matters worse, service providers earn low wages despite working long hours to support their clients. In the Los Angeles area, the average salary reported by GBV movement staff is only $35,436 after tax. However, in Los Angeles County, a single parent needs a minimum of $88,212.80 to support themselves and one child.

“Working two jobs and working 56 hours a week, my annual income comes up to a little over $52,000 a year.” – GBV service provider in the LA area

I have to get a second job to be able to sustain my quality of life for me and my children. I’m going to come home [from] work maybe not 100 percent, because I’m going to be tired because I had to take a second shift. Which I have done personally in past years where I have taken seasonal jobs so that I was able to kind of break even.” – GBV service provider in the LA area

In addition to low wages, service providers often don’t have access to the benefits they need to support their own or their family’s healing.

Half of my check is going into health insurance for my kids…And then I still have to go and pay a copay, and I still have to pay another copay for the medication if needed.” – GBV service provider in the LA area

“I’ve seen a lot of staff who have health issue who prefer not to go to the doctors because they don’t have the means.” – GBV service provider in the LA area

Dealing with financial insecurity makes service providers who identify as survivors less safe – 1 in 4 reports still being in contact with their harm-doer, and 1 in 5 say they don’t feel safe at home. It also makes it harder for them to do their job:

And so [having to get a second job] did impact my quality of work, because I was tired, I was more irritable, and I wasn’t giving my all to my clients.” – GBV service provider in the LA area

Simply put, the GBV movement is not currently able to prioritize financial security for service providers. In order to create survivor-centered workplaces within the movement, GBV organizations must create policies and offer benefits and pay that help their staff build and protect the financial security they need to stay safe, heal, and support their clients’ safety and healing.

The Solutions: Making IPV Movement Jobs Livable and Sustainable

“I feel like if we were all financially secure that we [could] all work better. Because we wouldn’t have to worry about that car bill that’s due next week and stuff like that, and that we could just focus more on the clients…and not have to be stressed about how we’re going to keep paying our bills.” – IPV service provider in the LA area

We’ve put together a set of recommendations for how GBV organizations can create more survivor-centered workplaces that support the financial security and safety of their service providers. And these are all policies and benefits that we offer our staff at FreeFrom!

  1. Pay living wage salaries


Living wages help survivors build financial security, stay safe, and live their lives fully. Earning a salary that barely covers, or doesn’t quite cover, basic expenses puts survivors and their families at risk of being one financial emergency away from living in poverty.

Living wages prevents burnout. The nonprofit movement is not sustainable. The high burnout and turnover that comes from underpaying staff costs nonprofits money in productivity, rehiring, and training costs.

I know they have already lost a lot of good people because they can’t pay a living wage. So yes, I believe that it’ll continue to happen.” – IPV service provider in the LA area

Living wages increase focus. Employees lose more than two weeks’ worth of productivity a year worrying about money at work. Paying well is good for productivity.

Living wages promote equity. Queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (QTBIPOC) have to deal with increased obstacles to financial insecurity – including racial and gender wealth and income gaps. Paying living wages to QTBIPOC staff helps close these gaps, increase equity, and supports community and intergenerational healing.   

  1. Offer 100% covered healthcare benefits to all staff


Fully covered family health insurance policies help families heal. Health insurance that fully covers family members’ premiums ensures that employees and their kids can afford to heal and stay healthy. When staff’s health insurance doesn’t fully cover their family members, premiums can be extremely expensive, especially when compared to their low salaries. This forces employees to make difficult decisions about their health – including avoiding doctors’ visits and skipping needed medication.

Health coverage for part-time employees means that service providers don’t have to choose between their health and their job. Health insurance coverage is often not available to part-time employees, forcing them to decide whether they can stay in their job or if they need to look for another opportunity that provides benefits.  

  1. Provide paid and protected leave for survivors, ample paid vacation, and create a culture where staff are encouraged to take time off


Survivors need time to deal with the consequences of GBV. In a recent survey, 41% of survivors reported having to use their sick leave to deal with the consequences of GBV, and the average number of sick days used was 10.6. Survivors need time to deal with the consequences of abuse, and they shouldn’t have to miss out on a paycheck or use their sick or vacation time to do so. 

Employees need time to rest and enjoy themselves outside of work. The GBV movement is a high stress environment, and employees need time to rest and recover to bring their full selves to the job. Putting a cap on paid vacation time doesn’t help our effort to achieve high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.

Without a culture that encourages employees to take time off, a policy won’t work. Employees must be shown by leadership that it really is ok to take time off! Leadership can do so by taking time off themselves and by asking and encouraging staff to take time off.

  1. Offer flexible schedules and work from home options


Survivors often have to deal with urgent matters related to GBV during the workweek. Giving employees the option to work from home and at their own schedule will ensure that survivors never have to choose between their job and their health and safety.

Survivors with kids often can’t afford childcare, making it difficult for them to work “normal” hours based on school schedules. Giving employees the option to work from home can give them the flexibility they need to continue to work while ensuring that they never have to choose between their children’s welfare and their job.

  1. Review workplace policies against the organization’s mission and make necessary changes


Some workplace policies mirror abuse. Policies like probationary periods, which do not allow a new employee to access benefits like health insurance or leave for the first 1-6 months on the job, mirror abuse and control tactics by harm-doers. To be truly survivor-centered, GBV organizations must make sure that all of their workplace policies are consistent with their missions and that none re-abuse employees.  

  1. Build an open and supportive culture for survivors on staff


While survivors on staff may not be in crisis, they still need resources and support. The consequences of economic abuse outlast the moments of crisis caused by GBV. Survivors working in the movement need resources and support to continue to heal, stay safe, and recover financially. Without an open and supportive culture for survivors on staff, folks won’t be as likely to ask for and receive the help they need.

The How: Advocating for survivor-centered workplaces with Boards of Directors and funders

Service providers and movement leaders point to restrictive funding as one of the major obstacles to creating survivor-centered workplaces. Boards of Directors are another obstacle that prevent agencies from creating more survivor-centered workplace. While agencies know their funders and boards best, below are some guiding tips on how to advocate for better workplace practices:

  • Power is perceived. Funders and boards have perceived power. Agency leaders and service providers have every right to advocate for their staff as much as their clients. Remember funders and board of directors are ultimately just people and therefore are capable of growth-based conversations, compromise, and change. It is also okay to outgrow board members and funders in this process as doing so might support the long-term growth of an agency.
  • Most boards and funders respond to data. Create a one pager or a pitch that is easy to understand with high-level stats that support survivor-centered workplaces. For example: a 1 pager on your current wages opposed to a living wage in your county. Use the reports linked in this article to make your case.
  • Budget scenarios that show how survivor-centered workplaces promote sustainability are compelling. Often the fear of adopting these practices comes from fear of funds not being used appropriately. Showing how adopting these practices can reduce costs or keep an agency steadily growing can help. For example: a budget scenario that shows a 20% salary increase across all staff and how that impacts the agency’s ability to raise more funds/do more work.
  • Align survivor-centered workplaces with the agency’s mission, vision, and values. In other words, how does creating survivor-centered workplaces fulfill an agency’s purpose? If supporting survivors is at all part of an agency’s mission, then an argument for survivor-centered workplaces can be made.
  • Finding flexible dollars. Using general operating funds to support this work can be an easy first step. Additionally, make plans to advocate for general operating funds with existing and new funders. Or maybe there is a funder who is interested in funding a living wage raise for your staff? Funders look for exciting new promising projects to fund and survivor-centered workplaces may be appealing.

About FreeFrom:

FreeFrom is a national organization working to create pathways to financial security and long-term safety for survivors of GBV. We envision a world where survivors have sustaining income, savings, and credit with which to build wealth and the resources to support individual, intergenerational and community healing.

Additional Resources:

Creating Survivor-Centered Workplaces Webinar

Centering Survivors for Transformative Change: Exploring economic supports to prevent sexual and intimate partner violence with FreeFrom

Prioritizing Financial Security in the IPV Movement: A Roadmap

Survivors Know Best: How to Disrupt Intimate Partner Violence During COVID-19 and Beyond

Trust Survivors: Building an Effective and Inclusive Cash Assistance Program

Survivor Safety Banking Guidelines

Survivor Financial Security Policy Map and Scorecard

Compensation Compass