National Council of Jewish Women advocates understands the importance of economic justice as it relates to domestic violence. Economic abuse–when an abuse prevents a victim from being able to earn money, limit their financial assets, or conceal financial information–is experienced by 99% of victims of domestic violence. Yet recovering from this form of abuse is extraordinarily difficult, often made more complicated by the presence of children, unfair workplace dynamics of the victim, and a confusing legal system.
However, the advocates of NCJWSt. Louis isn’t afraid to take on this crisis head-on. In 2013, NCJWSTL wrote and introduced the Victims Economic Security and Safety Act. After eight years of advocating, educating, and volunteering, VESSA was finally signed by Governor Parson yesterday!
VESSA is a provision that requires employers with over twenty employers to provide workplace safety accommodations to survivors of domestic violence. The workplace is often a place where perpetrators of domestic violence can abuse their victims, including showing up to the victim’s place of work, flooding the victim with phone calls during work hours, and or causing mayhem at the victim’s workplace. Additionally, the provision allows victims to take unpaid leave in order to allow victims of sexual or domestic violence to attend court hearings to be granted orders of protection, accessing the court for other reasons such as custody arrangements, seeking care for mental or physical health reasons, developing safety plans, finding new living arrangements, and more–allowing victims to protect themselves and their family.
“We are so excited to finally bring this new law to Missouri and look forward to the Governor signing it.” said Ellen Alper, CEO of NCJWSTL. “We have worked long and hard to make sure that survivors have what they need to move on with their lives and are supported by their employer.”
Support by employers is especially crucial for victims of economic abuse, as many abuse tactics are specifically targeted towards the workplace, stealing or withholding paychecks, and other methods of manipulation. Too often, victims of abuse are forced to choose between their job and their safety or even prolong their abuse due to financial abuse. Thanks to VESSA and its champions, victims will no longer have to make this impossible choice.
“This legislation protects the economic well-being of survivors,” Senator Jill Schupp said. “When domestic violence has forced a survivor to take measures to overcome a dangerous situation, unpaid leave is a way to support the survivor, any children, and to also be mindful of the needs of the person’s employer.”
Amy Kuo Hammerman, NCJWSTL State Policy Advocacy Chair agrees: “I am thrilled about the passage of VESSA because domestic violence survivors will no longer be forced to choose between their economic and personal safety. It’s especially heartwarming because my mother-in-law, Marlene Hammerman, was NCJWSTL President when this bill was first created and introduced eight years ago. The hard work of NCJWSTL, our coalition partners, and legislative champions has finally paid off and survivors can breathe a sigh of relief.”
The community in Missouri is certainly better off with this law in place. The success of this effort is a testament to NCJW’s theory of change: education plus advocacy plus community service equals lasting transformation in the lives of vulnerable women, children, and families. Check back here regularly for additional stories of inspiration from the field.