Saturday marks twenty years since the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law. The country has made real progress toward reducing domestic violence, thanks in many ways to VAWA. Domestic violence incidents rates have dropped 64 percent since 1993; murders have also decreased. VAWA vastly expanded resources for shelters, crisis centers and hotlines, as well as education programs, safe public transportation and research, all meant to prevent violence.
Clearly, there is work to be done. And much of the unfinished work of VAWA is increasing the economic security of women in abusive situations.
Intimate partner violence and economic status are inextricably intertwined. Three-quarters of victims say they stayed with their abusers longer because of economic reasons. It’s not hard to see why: a woman leaving an abusive partner will need housing and employment to stay independent, but both are put at risk by the abuse itself. Workplaces are public spaces that can be easy for abusers to access: the leading cause of death for women at work is homicide. And controlling women financially by threatening their jobs is a way of making them stay longer.
Yet in forty-three states, there is no legal protection to keep women from being fired because they are victims of domestic abuse. Just four states that do have protections go further and mandate that reasonable accommodations, like changing phone numbers or desk locations, be given to victims so they can stay on the job without risking their health.
The lack of employment protections can lead to situations like the one Carie Charlesworth, a teacher in California, found herself in. Her abusive husband invaded her school’s parking lot and put the school on lockdown—and then the school fired her because of the endangerment. Many women go through this: in a study of thirty-two women in abusive relationships, 91 percent ended up fired or resigning from their jobs because of their abuse. Firing someone for these reasons doesn’t just re-victimize her, it also cuts off a lifeline she’ll need to be able to escape the situation.