Economic Justice Can Help Undo Economic Violence

By Shelley Halstead, J.D.
Reproductive Justice Fellow, National Center for Lesbian Rights

We often hear the figure that women still earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar. However, what that figure fails to capture is how many other factors contribute to an even more significant disparity for some women. Woman of color face even more pay inequity, with black women earning 64 cents to the dollar and Latina women earning 55 cents to the dollar of their white male counterparts. Other marginalized identities likewise impact the pay gap, such as identifying as immigrant women or women in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Particularly troublingly, this gap is also widened for women who are survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Despite the common myth that IPV is an issue that only impacts people’s private and home lives, it actually has a devastating impact on the economic well-being of survivors. Studies have shown that between 35% and 56% of victims of intimate partner violence are harassed at work by their abusers. This abuse can take many forms. Abusers can interfere with the survivor’s ability to work through harassing activities, such as frequent phone calls, unannounced visits, or other threatening behaviors. Because of the harmful but persisting stigma that survivors still experience, the abusers behavior often impacts how the survivor is viewed professionally and can lead to disciplinary action at work and even job loss. This can be particularly damaging for LGBT people who sometimes face risk of having an abuser threaten to “out” them at work if their employer is unaware of their LGBT identity.  While LGBT individuals are gaining more acceptance, threatening to out an LGBT victim in their workplace can be detrimental and even unsafe.

All of these types of harassment can disenfranchise women from being able to obtain and keep meaningful work and a much-needed paycheck. All of these types of harassment threaten women’s autonomy to take care of ourselves and our families. In order to adequately address this issue, we need to understand domestic violence in all the ways it can impact a survivor’s life, and ensure that efforts to prevent this violence is conscious of these forms of abuse attack a person’s economic well-being.

The ability to make a living wage is a fundamental human right, essential not only to women’s equality but also to our dignity as human beings. It can mean the difference between having a voice in the world (and at home) and not being heard at all. Economic violence is such an insidious facet of economic injustice because it exploits the reluctance society has historically had with seeing issues of domestic violence and IPV as public problems that must be targeted and addressed as such. In order for women and their families to thrive we must continue to analyze the ways in which economic, racial, and structural constraints destabilize our power and call out injustice when we see it.

Shelley graduated from the University of Washington School of Law where she was a Gates Public Service Scholar. While in law school, Shelley participated in the Workers Rights’ Clinic, providing wage claim and wage lien assistance to low-wage workers who remain unpaid by their employers. She was also active in the Immigrant Families Advocacy Project, a program that obtains U-Visas for undocumented women survivors of domestic violence. Her internships in law school provided her the opportunity to work at Law Student for Reproductive Justice (Oakland) providing policy and advocacy assistance, Solid Ground (Seattle), where she advocated for public benefit recipients, and at Equal Rights Advocates (San Francisco). While at ERA, she helped advise callers involving issues of pregnancy discrimination, Title VII, and Title IX and worked on their marginalized women’s campaign. She also focused her research on access and advancement for women in the trades. In Seattle, Shelley served as a board member and hotline volunteer of the CAIR (Community Abortion and Information & Resource) Project, raising money and helping low-income women access abortion.

Prior to entering law school, Shelley traveled and worked in various places around the globe, from India to Antarctica, before becoming a union carpenter. As a member of Local 131, she was a shop steward and helped domestic partners gain access to employee benefits. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

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