This Bill Takes On An Often Overlooked Risk Of Domestic Abuse

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There are lots of reasons it can be difficult for a woman to leave an abusive relationship, but one big one is often overlooked. What if she loses her job? Women often have to move, change their routines, and spend time in the legal system applying for restraining orders. All of that can add the threat of financial insecurity to an already trying situation.

Recitfying that is the aim of a new bill, introduced today by Washington Senator Patty Murray and a host of Democrats, aiming to make it easier for women dealing with domestic violence to get help without fearing for their jobs or their economic futures.

Murray and California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard introduced the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act of 2015 on Tuesday morning. The bill would, according to a Murray spokesperson, provide survivors with guaranteed paid leave if they need medical or legal help, and protect them from being fired if they're getting harassed at work or need additional security measures in order to stay safe.

“Survivors should not have to choose between economic security and safety," Murray said in a statement. "The SAFE Act would take critical steps to ensure survivors aren’t trapped in abusive relationships for financial reasons, and can seek protections at work without fear of punishment.”

While it might seem like common sense that survivors of domestic violence or assault should be able to heal and consider options without worrying about their economic future, the reality is anything but simple. It takes an average of seven attempts for a domestic violence survivor to leave an abuser, and the single most dangerous time for people in abusive relationships is when they leave.

Survivors should not have to choose between economic security and safety.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington
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Another component of abuse that makes leaving difficult is an economic one. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, as many as 60% of survivors of intimate partner violence lose a job for reasons connected to abuse. And even something as simple applying for a credit card can be difficult when you don't want to reveal your location. The proposed bill will also include grants for programs that support financial literacy training and advocacy and studies looking at what issues — and what parts of the country — are the most difficult for people trying to leave an abusive situation.

Right now, only 17 states give survivors paid leave in order to do essential things like go to court or to the doctor, which means millions of American women could potentially be fired if they had to miss work to take an abuser to court. And there aren't protections for workers whose partners might try to harass them by sending intimate photos to an employer, but the bill would protect survivors from discrimination if someone tried to humiliate them using "revenge porn."

Murray helped draft the original 1994 Violence Against Women Act, and she has pushed to update and expand the law many times in the past 20 years. She played a major role in expanding VAWA to protect Native American women, who were excluded under the original and experience violence at epidemic rates. Murray first introduced the SAFE Act in 2006 and has re-introduced it several times since then. Murray has also been a strong supporter of legislation aimed at reducing sexual assault on college campuses.

The SAFE bill could provide domestic violence survivors with crucial protections, but there are still other things that would help protect them as well. Women are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun in America than in similarly prosperous countries, and according to research from Everytown.org, at least 52% of women killed with guns in the U.S. are killed by a family member or intimate partner. Murray has also been a vocal advocate for more comprehensive gun regulations.
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