[February 8, 2017] – This year, one of SOAR’s 2017 legislative priorities is the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. This act would require Rhode Island employers to provide a minimum of seven paid sick and safe days to all of their employees, including time to address issues related to domestic violence.

This legislation is all too close to home for me and other survivors of domestic violence. As a survivor, I know very well the life-changing effects of abuse, and the feelings of vulnerability, loneliness, and fear. In my experience, the abuser used tactics that appeared innocent from the outside, but were incessant and all-consuming. He called nonstop, and if I didn’t pick up the phone, he would drive by, he would follow me, show up at my work, find me anywhere I went. He always acted like he wanted to see me on the pretext of caring – that he loved me and wanted to make sure I was okay. But I was terrified. I tried hiding, changing jobs, but he always found a way to get to me. He always said that he was doing this because he loved me too much, and he couldn’t live without me.

I was terrified, and so were the people closest to me. Maintaining a “normal” daily routine was almost impossible. I was always looking over my shoulder. On good days, I would manage to avoid him and get to work and back home safely. On bad days, he would find me and, by force or intimidation, trap me; then the violence would ensue.

As terrified as I was of him, I was also afraid of losing my job. I needed to pay my bills and support my infant son. How could I explain to my employer that I couldn’t make it to work because my car tires were slashed or because I was being held hostage by the abuser? How could I stop the constant, harassing phone calls coming through the work phone line? It is a difficult discussion to have because of shame and fear, and so it is often never had. Many times, instead of going to the hospital to get medical treatment for my injuries, I would go to work instead. Other times, I had no option but to miss work; I was reprimanded and even lost two jobs as a consequence of the abuse.

Finally, after jumping from job to job, I found a supportive employer that provided sick time. I felt comfortable talking to my boss about the abuse that I was facing, and she was incredibly supportive. My boss gave me some flexibility around when I arrived at work, allowed for me to take time off, and even walked me to my car at night in case the abuser was nearby. My boss’s commitment to allowing me the safe time I needed was critical to my survival and ability to ultimately get away from my abuser.  I thank them to this day.

Choosing between your health or jeopardizing your job is a choice no Rhode Islander should face. I am hopeful that the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act will be passed into law, and I urge everyone to contact your legislators. In order to be effective, we must make our voices heard, which means we need our supporters to speak up and stand with us.

Want more information on how you can support the RICADV's legislative priorities? Contact RICADV Policy Director John Wesley at [email protected].

- Kathy, SOAR Member

Pictured: Kathy (left) and Senator Maryellen Goodwin, a longstanding champion of the RICADV and SOAR, stand firmly in support of the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, sponsored by Senator Goodwin and Representative Aaron Regunberg, at the kick-off event at the State House in February 2016.