As corporations expand their philanthropic giving, an epidemic that affects millions of American women is being pushed further out of sight. Domestic violence threatens the security of entire families and communities — and all too often costs women their safety and their lives. The economic toll exacted by domestic abuse on our social service systems, workplaces, and on law enforcement is in the billions. Yet less than one percent of company-sponsored foundations currently registered with the Foundation Center even list domestic violence as a field of interest.
This is shameful: Charitable and corporate foundations must acknowledge and act to confront domestic violence. With their economic clout, they are ideally positioned to fund life-saving domestic violence services, underwrite public awareness and prevention campaigns, and create in-house policies for their own employees who are experiencing abuse.
The numbers are staggering: One in four women in the U.S. experiences domestic violence in her lifetime; young women ages 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk. And nearly 75 percent of all Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim. Domestic violence advocates and lawmakers have partnered for decades to boost both education and federal funding to combat abuse — most notably through the Violence Against Women Act — but public resources alone are not enough. Company-sponsored foundations, with the capacity to give millions of dollars annually, are conspicuously absent.
Company-sponsored foundations target their philanthropic dollars at the “the issues that their consumers care about most.” It’s a policy that begs the question: Are the industries that target women heavily –beauty, pharmaceuticals, clothing, and food – actually giving back to the issues that most affect their female consumers? I asked around my all-female office about the products they tend to buy. Procter & Gamble, which owns beauty brands like Olay, Tampax and Cover Girl, provides children and girls in developing countries with access to sanitary protection and clean water — but it does not fund programs that deal with domestic violence. Unilever, which owns popular brands such as Dove and Pond’s, has given millions through its foundation to support community and economic development, education, nutrition and public health… but not victims of abuse. Although both of these companies are doing critical work for at-risk populations, they are leaving behind a vulnerable group in dire need of services and support: Victims of domestic violence. A few companies do recognize the need, and serve as philanthropic models for those looking to invest in this cause: Verizon, Allstate and the Avon Foundations, for example, have donated millions of dollars to programs that engage men in violence prevention, promote healthy relationships for young people, and support direct services for victims and their families.
Investing in programs that combat abuse is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that employees experiencing domestic violence cost the American workforce some $727 million in lost productivity annually. Employers also grant more than 7.9 million paid workdays each year to employees experiencing abuse, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full time jobs lost each year. These figures don’t even take into account the direct medical and mental health care costs of intimate partner violence, which amounts to approximately $4.1 billion each year. By creating effective policies that support workers affected by violence, and investing in domestic violence programs and services, companies can save money and lives.
This October, as we commemorate both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am keenly aware of the power that American corporations have thrown behind the fight against breast cancer. Their contributions have increased breast cancer awareness, added significant dollars to research, and fueled a national dialogue about the issue. Corporations have not only provided resources to find a cure for breast cancer, they have changed the American public’s attitude towards this devastating disease. I can only imagine the potential if the same resources and public support were directed at domestic abuse. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s time for companies to finally make domestic violence a philanthropic priority — and for women, a powerful and growing economic force, to accept nothing less.