A Matter of Life and Death – Tina's Story
By Kim Wells, Executive Director, Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence
Partner violence sometimes comes closer to home than you think. Even when you are the Executive Director of an organization like CAEPV.
On Thursday, October 26, 2000, a woman who was an employee of my husband's social service agency did not show up for work. Her supervisor was concerned, and called the police. The police found her—murdered. They also found her two year old son—alive, and wandering around looking for his mother. Tragically, his father (the mother's ex-boyfriend) allegedly stabbed her to death when she brought the boy to his father's house for a pre-arranged visit.
There is a sad irony to the timing of this horrific event. On the following day, the leadership team where my husband is employed was scheduled to take up the issue of "partner violence and the workplace" – including how they should begin to implement a policy and programs to raise awareness, educate, and assist their employees.
On November 5, my husband had the opportunity to represent his company at a candlelight vigil in honor of Tina, the woman from his organization who died, as well as to honor others who'd lost their lives due to domestic violence in the past year. He spoke about the woman who died, about the tragedy of a little boy with no mother, and the shock and sadness that overtook his agency. I thought I would share what he had to say with you:
One of the messages of the program tonight is domestic violence affects everyone—in families, in the work place, and in the community.
Working in foster care, we see everyday the affect of violence on families. Children truly are victims of circumstance. Domestic violence affects children in many ways. Sometimes domestic violence incidents result in children being physically hurt. Other times the pain is emotional, the pain that comes from watching violence between your parents. Perhaps the most far-reaching affect is the stuff children learn when they grow up in a violent home. They learn so much about how to resolve problems and especially how to value women.
I was recently at a meeting with juvenile court judges. One of them told a story that is all too common about an eight year old boy who was asked to testify about what he'd seen in his home. When he was asked to talk about what his father had done to his sister, he said, "He treated her like women are supposed to be treated when they do stuff that's wrong. He slapped her around and pulled her hair." How scary that he had learned that this is what is supposed to happen. I wonder what his sister had learned. What an incredible ripple effect that father's behavior had. Thank God we are part of the solution and with grace and good social work, we can help break the cycle . . .
My wife runs a non-profit organization that deals with domestic violence as it relates to the workplace. I've heard the astounding statistics that describe the effect of domestic violence on businesses:
- Medical expenses from domestic violence cost businesses 3 to 5 billion dollars a year; Businesses forfeit another $100 million a year in lost wages, absenteeism, sick leave, and non-productivity due to partner violence
- 94% of corporate security directors rank partner violence as a high security problem
- 24-30% of abused working women lost their jobs due to their partner violence situation
- 75% of victims are harassed at work by their abuser
- Finally, there is lost productivity due to premature death—Homicide is the #1 leading cause of death on the job, and 20% of those were murdered by their intimate partner—AT THE WORKPLACE.
My workplace came to experience the effect of domestic violence in a very personal way on October 26 when the director of one of our day care programs didn't report to work. We later found out that she had been murdered. The alleged perpetrator was her former boyfriend and father of her son. The feelings on our campus ranged from disbelief that something so horrific could happen; anger that the life of an energetic, vibrant young woman ended at age 26; guilt that we didn't see it coming and do something to prevent it; fear, given the realization that life is not a safe place, and sadness over the loss of a dear friend to many and the thought of a two year old boy who would now grow up without a mommy.
Tina may be remembered most for her big smile, her endless energy, her contagious laugh, her love for her little boy, and her deep faith in Christ. I thought a lot about what to say tonight that would honor Tina's memory. I decided the best way to honor Tina would be to tell you about the legacy she leaves in the son who survives her.
Leon is a beautiful two-year-old boy with a joyful disposition and a soft heart. He is very bright and incredibly articulate. He prefers candy to hot dogs, likes to make people laugh, and is equally nurturing to baby dolls and basketballs. Tina's good parenting is clearly evident in her son. Although she was with him only a short time, he will surely reap the benefits of his mother's love and tender care forever.
I am honored to have the opportunity to share this time with you tonight, talk with you about Tina and about the issue of domestic violence. Clearly domestic violence seriously affects all of us—in the home, the workplace, and the community. I can't help wondering where do we go from here? The answer I came up with is that we come together to make it stop. We get informed and we get involved. We start a ripple affect that reverses the one I mentioned earlier, a ripple affect that teaches human beings the value of human beings, that protects victims, and provides access to help in the community and through the workplace.
My very wise wife frequently uses a statement that seems very appropriate to end with now. "When we stand alone, nothing changes. When we stand together, everything can."
When my husband told me what happened to Tina, he said "Please don't ever think that what you do doesn't matter. Maybe if we would have known better what we could have done at our workplace, Tina's situation may have had a different outcome. We know we can't save Tina now, but we can do something in her honor in hopes that we can help prevent this from happening to anyone else."
Please remember—what you do to prevent partner violence in your workplaces matters where it counts most—in changing people's lives. Thank you for being part of the "ripple effect" that works to end partner violence.