Study eyes domestic violence's impact outside the home

Study eyes domestic violence's impact outside the home
By Paul Mayne
Western News
December 11, 2013

The effects of domestic violence are not just felt inside the home, said Nadine Wathen, a professor at Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS). Much of it spills into the workplace and places unprecedented demands on employers.

Wathen, along with Jen MacGregor, a FIMS post-doctoral researcher, and Barb MacQuarrie, community director at Western's Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC), have launched a national survey on the impact of domestic violence on workers and workplaces, the first-ever survey of its kind in Canada.

The survey is in partnership with the Women’s Committee of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Researchers believe the results will provide made-in-Canada findings that will help unions, employers, advocates and governments develop strong public policy, as well as negotiate workplace supports for domestic violence victims.

“Imagine what it’s like to be emotionally and physically hurt from the most recent episode and then try and be productive at school or work,” said Wathen, who examines women’s health decision-making in her research. “We need to know what supports are there for people and what isn’t. We need to understand what works and what doesn’t.”

The anonymous survey, which can be found at, is open to men and women ages 15 and over until June 6. It will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to complete, depending on responses. All workers are encouraged to complete the survey, whether or not they have personally experienced or witnessed domestic violence.

Wathen added the results will go a long way in making evidence-informed policies and will allow employers to advocate of behalf of their workers and build a much safer workplace.

“There is very little Canadian data about the scope and impact of domestic violence on workers and workplaces, making it difficult to make evidence-informed policies and deliver effective services,” Wathen said. “We do know that having a job helps women leave a violent relationship.”

“This survey will help all of us to realize that what happens at home can have a profound impact on what happens at work and it will guide us to see where there are opportunities to keep workers and the whole workplace safe,” added MacQuarrie, who was in Ottawa last week to launch the survey.

Peter Jaffe, CREVAWC academic director, said we often overlook domestic violence as it relates to the workplace. As part of the Chief Coroner’s Office Domestic Violence Death Review Committee for Ontario, he has reviewed close to 200 domestic homicides over the last decade.

“We need to ask the questions: Was it predicable? Was it preventable?” said Jaffe, noting about 80 per cent of the homicides were predictable and preventable. “There were well known risk factors known to friends, family, professionals and, often, those in the workplace. In about one quarter of domestic homicides, co-workers or supervisors knew, or should have known, the warming signs about someone who is a victim of domestic violence.”

Jaffe added it is not a gender-neutral issue, and that men can be victims as well, but the vast majority of cases involve women.

“We have to look at this issue in a way that recognizes the particular risks and vulnerabilities that women face in the workplace,” he said. “It’s an important issue for all of us.”

“Domestic violence is devastating lives of Canadian workers and it is costing Canadian workplaces in lost productivity, absenteeism and turn over,” MacQuarrie said. “It’s easy to ignore those facts without evidence.

“This survey will change that.”