Written by Karl Etters, Tallahassee Democrat staff writer
A local chapter of an international women’s organization is urging all employers to develop workplace policies against domestic violence and sexual assault. The Zonta Club of Tallahassee pushed its message on Tuesday, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the federal Violence Against Women Act. Club members were joined by representatives from county and city government, top officials at Florida A&M and Florida State universities and Tallahassee Community College, private sector businesses and the legal community for a discussion about awareness of domestic and workplace violence and options in assisting victims. Sooni Raymaker, Zonta Club of Tallahassee’s president, said Tuesday’s event was about promoting a culture of workplace violence policies and programs to help employees with domestic violence issues.
“As with anything with violence against women, or violence generally against citizens, is becoming more and more prevalent,” Raymaker said. “There are victims of violence they’ve been suffering in silence and this is to raise awareness of that and get them assistance.”
Raymaker added that employees with domestic issues often affect productivity in the workplace through absenteeism, others having to share in work responsibilities and a feeling of insecurity in the workplace. It is estimated that domestic and workplace violence cost U.S. businesses almost $36 billion annually.
“If there is a workplace that will support a victim of violence, you will have a better return on your productivity, it’s a safer environment and it’s economic security for the victim,” she said.
Domestic and workplace violence is not limited to women, said lawyer Robin Hassler Thompson, who specializes in violence against women issues. “So even though we talk about women being victims,” Thompson said, “we know that men are victims in same-sex relationships and in heterosexual relationships but at a much smaller percentage.”
Thompson said one in three women will become victims of domestic violence and one in five female students will be a victim of rape. With three major institutions and more than 65,000 students in Tallahassee undefined FSU, FAMU and TCC undefined those numbers are alarming, she said.
Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare President and CEO Mark O’Bryant said the hospital sees about 125,000 domestic violence cases a year, but few patients seek assistance after their initial visit. The effects of domestic violence can linger and have an effect on quality of life.
“We oftentimes think of the immediate (physical) impact, but there is the whole lingering effect of secondary conditions,” including behavioral, emotional and mental health, O’Bryant said.
“When we talk about domestic violence and the impact that has on emotional health, we need to recognize that we cannot have a high quality of life without embracing this issue and addressing it in a very proactive way,” O’Bryant added.
The Zonta Club is an international women’s organization focused on improving the status of women and girls and holds a seat on the United Nation’s High Commission on the Status of Women.
The Tallahassee chapter has worked with the city and county in developing their workplace violence policies and implementing programs for employees experiencing domestic violence.
The fight to end violence takes the involvement of large community, Raymaker said.
“It’s not just one voice,” she said. “We have 38,000 members so we think advocating change takes an entire community and with that many voices and many more voices joining we can effectuate change.”
“If there is a workplace that will support a victim of violence, you will have a better return on your productivity, it’s a safer environment and it’s economic security for the victim.”
SOONI RAYMAKER, Zonta Club of Tallahassee