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Domestic violence is a union issue

1199Seiu | , George Gresham President | 8/31/2011, 4:38 p.m.
The recent sexual assault case of hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, by wealthy...
George Gresham, President 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

The recent sexual assault case of hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, by wealthy Dominique Strauss-Kahn casts an important spotlight on issues of power and privilege as well as race, class and gender. However, there is a far more pervasive issue of gender discrimination that desperately needs to be addressed: domestic violence.

Figures from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence tell us that one in every four women in our country will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Not all of the victims are women, but they represent the overwhelming majority-84 percent of spousal victims and 86 percent of those abused by boyfriends.

This year alone, domestic violence has claimed the lives of three 1199SEIU sisters: RNs Tatiana Prikhodko of Brooklyn's Brookdale Hospital; Trenance Williams of St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx; and Felicia Cruz, a home health aide with Mobilization for Youth in Manhattan.

Though domestic violence is generally perpetrated by intimate family members, it is by no means simply a personal or private matter. We consider it an issue of social justice and equality-principles upon which our union was founded.

It is the responsibility of unions such as ours to take the lead in preventing and addressing domestic abuse as a public health, workplace, community and family issue. The abuse is not confined to physical attacks. It can be verbal, emotional or even economic. All forms of abuse, though, share the same purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim.

The safety and well-being of the member is our chief concern, but also paramount is the effect of violence on our children. At least one-third of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the same household.

Growing up in a violent home is a terrifying and traumatic experience that can affect every aspect of a child's well-being, growth and development. Witnessing violence between one's parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. For example, boys who witness such violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and on Sept. 26, our union will participate in the 11th annual Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk. Ricart was murdered by a jealous ex-boyfriend on her wedding day, Sept. 26, 1999.

The six-mile procession, organized by New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence, begins in Washington Heights and winds through Manhattan and the Bronx. Visit www.bridesmarch.com for more information.

Through our participation, we hope to strengthen our commitment to protecting, defending and supporting our sister members in any way we can. We want to assure members who are victims of abuse that they are not alone and that help is available.

Our 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund (NBF) offers confidential assessment and referrals to member victims. Help is also available for batterers. The NBF, which already offers seminars in both anger and stress management, will soon roll out its domestic violence seminar for institutions within the NBF.

We must also address the root causes of domestic abuse. We know that low self-esteem is not the sole cause, but a woman with a strong self-image feels more empowered to leave an abusive relationship. Finances often play a powerful role in determining a victim's options as well.

We men must take the lead in this campaign. We must both educate and challenge our male members. That means redefining what it means to be manly, and why the ideologies of male supremacy and patriarchy are the enemies of equality. It means modeling loving and respectful relationships for our sons and daughters.

Love should not hurt, and there is never ever any excuse for any man to consciously inflict pain on his partner.