In The News - From Witness Justice
The Impact of Violence on Corporate Bottom Lines
New National Survey Finds 81% of Victims of Violence Can't Focus On The Job -
Witness Justice Calling for Legislators/Employers to Address Problem
Washington, DC -- Helga West survived a brutal, random murder attempt-but her career as a television producer didn't. And a new national survey suggests that she is not alone, and that this problem is having a big impact on corporate America and on the lives of millions of survivors.
The September 1993 attack unhinged West's jaw, caused two vertebrae to pinch her spinal column, left her with a limp, and made it virtually impossible to focus on the routine of everyday life. Formerly enthusiastic and motivated, West became listless and lethargic, struggling to keep her life together. Within nine months, she lost her job. She drank to escape the constant pain, agonizing migraines, and psychological trauma. Over the next three years the young woman wrestled with depression, isolation, and even contemplated suicide.
By 1997, West had struggled through her physical and psychological trauma enough to run - and finish - the Marine Corps Marathon. But her professional life had yet to recover.
"I still had trouble finding work because my medical situation was considered a pre-existing condition," she recalls. "And not many employer policies were open to enrolling me on their health insurance plans."
Forced to shift her career path, West eventually went into marketing and joined a public relations firm. But her experience served as a catalyst for she and her husband Randy to take their personal savings and double-mortgage their home to start Witness Justice, a nonprofit organization to support trauma survivors that has become one of the most sought-after victim services in the country.
West's saga of lost productivity, unemployment and substance abuse is typical for many of the 5.2 million American adults, ages 18 to 54, who suffer from the impact of trauma. Given that the odds of falling victim to violent crime are greater than 2:1, this is an issue that touches the lives of many.
A recent nationwide employment survey conducted by Witness Justice reveals that a large majority of trauma survivors experience substantial workplace problems in the aftermath of violence. More than half of the respondents switched jobs or careers within two years of the event, with 85 percent citing the violence as a major factor in the job change.
Conducted between June and September 2007, the poll of more than 300 survivors also found:
- 81% have difficulty focusing
- 60% have difficulty connecting with colleagues
- 59% experience a lack of interest in work
- 52% have trouble connecting with their boss
- 49% have difficulty performing the job
"The results are striking when you realize that not only does violence impact a survivor's welfare and career - which also affects self-esteem and personal identity - but the shock wave hits the survivor's family, employer, and the economic health of the community," West said. "For a company-especially a small business-the cost can be significant in lost talent, time, training and productivity, and unemployment payments."
In fact, as untreated trauma disorders have become more common in the workplace, the financial burden on American business and the nation's economy has grown to staggering proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, decreased productivity due to violence-related trauma costs $64.4 billion annually, in addition to $5.6 billion in medical expenses.
Participants in the Witness Justice survey felt that employers could or should do more to support valued employees who have been victims of violence. Among the results regarding what would be most helpful in the workplace, the results show:
79% wanted to see staff educated on the impact of trauma to foster workplace support
78% felt employers need to be more understanding about the difficulty focusing and offer related support
73% wanted to see greater flexibility regarding schedules and where work is performed
71% thought employers should offer leave or time off
52% felt that continued employment should be guaranteed
West says the survey results demonstrate the prevalence of the problem and provide a framework to begin addressing it. "We need to learn more about this issue, the varied lines of communication between employer and employee, the legal considerations, and workplace practices to develop guidelines that will better support survivors and minimize the impact on individual lives and employers' bottom line. "Through this study, survivors have sent a message that needs to be heard and addressed by employers, legislators, and service providers."
The unfunded survey was initiated because many of the survivors of violence who seek support from Witness Justice express employment concerns and job loss following traumatic violence. Each month, Witness Justice receives more than 200,000 hits to its web site and approximately 300 individuals seek direct assistance.
Many organizations helped to promote participation in the poll, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Women's Health, the Sidran Institute, the State Public Systems Coalition On Trauma, and Witness Justice's e-mail lists, which include approximately 7,000 survivors, advocates, service providers and others.
Witness Justice is a national, grassroots, nonprofit organization created by survivors for survivors. Our mission is to empower and assist victims of violence and their loved ones with both healing from trauma and in navigating the criminal justice process. Witness Justice offers support regardless of where a victim lives, when or where the crime occurred, or whether the crime was ever reported. For more information, visit www.WitnessJustice.org.