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Domestic Violence: Cost to Business as much as $7 Billion per Year

With annual costs to U.S. businesses ranging from $3 to $5 billion and annual direct medical costs at $1.8 billion, the issue of domestic violence is a "silent epidemic," according to Denny Strigl, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless.

Strigl, speaking to a group of Milwaukee-area business and community leaders at a recent seminar, presented the disturbing toll of domestic violence on the workforce and on the community. The seminar also presented ways for workers to recognize and respond to the problem.

"Domestic violence is not a topic that is easy to talk about," said Strigl. "For that reason, it is under-discussed by the public, under-reported to police by its victims and under-reported on by the media. It is a silent epidemic."

Citing statistics that show that one out of three American women report being abused at some point in their lifetimes, Strigl said this issue presents a huge problem for companies and organizations of all sizes. "Because it knows no boundaries, it preys on both the communities where we do business and on our workforce," he said.

In addition to the $3 to $5 billion per year for medical expenses associated with domestic violence, Strigl said an additional $100 million per year is forfeited in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism and non-productivity.

Studies show that four out of five human resources professionals consider partner violence a workplace issue, and 96 percent of corporate security directors rank partner violence as a high security problem.

"All of these statistics are evidence that thousands of companies suffer its consequences along with the men and women who are its victims," Strigl said.

He explained that the severity of the issue and its effects led Verizon Wireless to conduct a nationwide effort to build awareness of domestic violence and the steps that can be taken to prevent it. During 2001, the company donated more than 4,000 wireless phones and airtime to domestic violence shelters for use by victims. Additionally, it donated more than $500,000 in monetary and other contributions to prevention programs across the country.

Kim Wells, a nationally recognized expert on workplace issues and domestic violence, provided statistics from studies of senior corporate executives in which one-third of the respondents said domestic violence had a negative impact on their bottom line performance. Two-thirds of those surveyed said their company's financial performance would benefit from addressing the issue, while 40 percent said they were personally aware of employees and other individuals affected by domestic violence.

Wells, the executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence (CAEPV), Bloomington, Ill., noted that the severity of domestic violence has led businesses from across the country and throughout the world to collaborate and address the problem. CAEPV is the only national organization of its kind founded by business leaders and focused on the workplace.

"The problem can be insidious or very sudden," Wells said. "In either case the imprint it leaves is visible, emotional and expensive. No business or level of management is immune from it."

Wells identified possible warning signs for victims of abuse, including excessive absences or tardiness; a sudden or sustained drop in productivity; inability to concentrate; depression; distraction or anxiety; excessive calls, visits or faxes from their partner; frequent unexplained bruises or injuries; and the wearing of concealing clothing, even in warm weather.

She noted that an increasing number of firms are establishing workplace violence policies as well as leave and benefit policies. Training, counseling and referral, employee education and corporate security programs are also increasing in number. In addition, steps are being taken to recognize and offer assistance to victims.

Programs and policies such as these have a positive effect within the workplace, Wells explained. Victims have been able to increase their productivity and decrease absenteeism and job changes. Companies have decreased liability and enhanced safety and security for workers.

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