The SAFE Act: Crucial to Supporting Survivors

By Caitlin Lowry, Senior Policy Analyst, YWCA USA

Each year, survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking lose more than 8 million days of paid work – the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs – due to taking time off to seek protection and support. This Week Without Violence, as YWCA focuses on ending gender-based violence and supporting survivors, we hope you will join us by advocating to Congress to support The SAFE Act.

The SAFE Act is crucial to supporting survivors of gender-based violence, because it allows them to take job-protected safe leave to seek medical or legal help, attend court appointments, and get help with safety planning. While an individual can use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a sick or injured spouse, they cannot use it to seek protection from an abuser. This failure to provide job-protected safe leave leads many domestic violence and sexual assault survivors to lose their jobs due to missed days from work.

Getting help from police, prosecutors, domestic violence advocates, and medical providers attending can take countless hours. But many workers, especially low wage workers, do not have the privilege to miss work to access medical care, or take necessary steps to secure their safety. Seventy-eight percent of those in the private sector earning $9 or less don’t have access to paid sick days, and 60% are without paid vacation days. Every day missed places a greater financial hardship on these survivors and their families. The lack of safe leave, for these survivors in particular, not only threatens their employment and financial stability, but in turn, it places their safety and that of their families at risk.

Only 33 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place that explicitly provide unemployment insurance to survivors of domestic violence under certain circumstances, while only 17 states provide survivors with leave from work to go to court or to the doctors. Many survivors must therefore choose between their livelihood and their health, their family, or their safety.

The SAFE Act (H.R.3841 / S. 2208), introduced by Senator Patty Murray, helps to fill this gap. The SAFE Act allows survivors to take 30 days of job protected safe leave in a 12-month period to receive medical attention, seek legal assistance, attend court proceedings, and get help with safety planning. Because missing even a few days’ pay can mean devastation for a family, the Act also permits seven of these days to be paid, consistent with the Healthy Families Act It also protects employees from being fired because they were harassed by their abuser, or sought assistance related to their abuse.

No survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking should ever face the fear of losing their job in order to seek assistance in remaining safe. Please join us and take action today to encourage your members of Congress to cosponsor and support the SAFE Act!

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Caitlin Lowry is the senior policy analyst for YWCA USA, where she provides research and guidance on policies and legislation related to racial justice and civil rights, women’s empowerment and economic advancement, and the health and safety of women. Caitlin has more than a decade of experience addressing human rights issues in a variety of governmental and non-governmental settings. Most recently, she worked with the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, assisting individuals with gaining access to health insurance coverage. Previously, she worked with various nonprofit organizations on issues related to health care, civil rights, and violence against women, including Amnesty International USA, Legal Momentum, and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.

Caitlin earned her BA from Wilmington College, and her JD and MA from the University of Cincinnati, where she was an Arthur Russell Morgan Human Rights Fellow.

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YWCA’s Week Without Violence is part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls with the World YWCA. Want to join the movement to end gender-based violence? Learn more at www.YWCAweekwithoutviolence.org and join the conversation on Twitter with #WorkAgainstViolence.