Health Care

‘No More’ Asks Employers to Be Aware of Domestic Violence

YOUNGTOWN, Ohio — Domestic violence, the widespread crime that’s none of my business or someone else’s business, is everyone’s business.

And soon employers in the Mahoning Valley will become much more aware of how it’s their business.

“Domestic violence is a crime that affects everyone,” Bonnie Wilson said Thursday in St. John’s Episcopal Church. Wilson is the executive director of Someplace Safe, the refuge in Trumbull County that takes in many of victims of physical abuse.

She was one of the speakers who kicked off the “No More” campaign of the newly renamed VIP Family Violence Coalition. The coalition is under the umbrella of Help Hotline Crisis Center Inc. The “No More” campaign is part of a national effort that will conduct events nationwide next week as part of “No More Week.”

Few are willing to report domestic violence or sexual assault to the police, clergy, family or friends, the speakers iterated. And those who do often find themselves in untenable positions because of others’ reluctance to get involved.

Domestic violence — physical, emotional and financial — and sexual assault result in employee absenteeism, lower productivity and substandard job performance, a survivor related.

At the coalition’s press event, Danielle Cantrell and Eileen Dray-Bardon put a human face on the cascade of statistics other speakers provided on its frequency and scope.

Cantrell, a vice president at Cortland Banks, is a survivor. Dray-Bardon, director of the Columbiana County Department of Jobs and Family Services, related how two of her female employees were victims, one ending up a fatality at age 34.

The director of Help Hotline, Vince Brancaccio, told of the 1,500 calls the service takes in a year that are “centered around violence,” that is roughly an average of four to five a day, in which a victim seeks a rescue from her tormentor. A small number of the victims are men.

“Businesses are not aware of the extent of the problem,” Brancaccio said, declaring that they should be.

Twice Brancaccio declared, “Together we can end domestic violence and sexual assault,” as he was joined by the full room of policemen and employees of agencies that provide social services.

The president of Youngstown State University, Jim Tressel, followed. ”It’s not that simple,” he pointed out. “You might think, ‘Of course No More.’ “

As did other speakers, Tressel noted the public service announcement sponsored by the National Football League. (The NFL has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend unconscious and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peters whipping his 4-year-old son.)

One woman in three is or will be a victim during her lifetime, Tressel said, and one man in seven.

Of the 70% of the women who report physical abuse, he continued, half said that no one — not the police, a social service agency, family or friends — made any effort to help.

The U.S. Department of Justice finds that 85% of the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are women, Wilson said.

Of the 47% of men who said they were victims, 87% said no one helped, Tressel said.

Domestic violence cuts across both sexes, all races and ethnicities, ages and social groups, the president of YSU said.

Wilson reminded her audience that domestic violence, while often physical, is all about the perpetrator exercising control. Perpetrators achieve control through threat of violence and control of the couple’s finances as well as inflicting physical injury.

Dottie Kane, coordinator of the coalition, said, “The business community feels it’s not their concern, that they should stay out of it.” She offered Cantrell and Dray-Bardon as reasons why that community can no longer sit and do nothing.

Cantrell is the very picture of a successful professional woman. “I had a wonderful childhood, a college degree and a wonderful job.” After her divorce, she met another executive at her bank who was also emerging from a divorce.

They discovered they had many interests in common, “became fast friends and married after two years.”

Cantrell called him “Mr. Perfect.” His efforts to control whom she saw — both at work and socially — didn’t register until after they married.

“He was a jealous boyfriend” whose insecurities, she thought, would be resolved by marriage. In retrospect, “The signs were always there,” she said.

Matters began to go downhill six weeks after they were married. “We even tried counseling,” Cantrell related, “but things only got worse.”

Mr. Perfect, a body builder, became “Mr. Imperfect” as he went through her emails at work, became very upset if she had a business luncheon with a male colleague, and caused her to not take two business trips lest she see other men.

He ranted at her at home after they returned from their church Bible study meeting for her comments — she thought them innocuous — on a verse.

In October 2011, Mr. Imperfect held her at gunpoint for more than an hour when she tried to leave to pick up her son from an overnight stay at a friend’s. When she persuaded him he had to let her go, she went directly to the police.

“I realized I could not be good enough,” Cantrell said. “I could not work hard enough.”

To the outside world, nothing was amiss. The only direct physical abuse was Cantrell’s husband once pinning her on their bed. He was not a substance abuser.

“It was all about control through intimidation and fear,” the banker said. Moreover, “abusers seldom change.”

Cantrell chose to speak at yesterday’s press event, she said, “to break the silence. My mission is to get the word out, that you are not alone. This is not normal. And you have options.”

Dray-Bardon told of how she remained on the sidelines, unaware and declining to become involved until she saw what happened to two of her employees.

One, whom she called Mary, “missed a lot of work,” the director of Jobs and Family Services said, because of the many injuries Mary had at home, including falling down stairs a lot. Dray-Bardon heard, “third- or fourth-hand accounts of physical abuse,” but wasn’t sure how or if she should get involved.

Mary resigned her job and shortly afterward “died of severe brain injuries” after another fall down the stairs. “There was no investigation, no inquiry. She was 34.”

Susan, on the other hand, “was a fantastic worker, always on time, cheerful.”

Susan, too, was a victim of violence. But “she fought back,” confiding her plight to a friend who is a policeman, asking him “to keep her secret, that her husband had held her at gunpoint. She finally persuaded him to let her go.”

After the situation was resolved and Dray-Bardon learned what had happened, she took steps to ensure that the 130 employees in her department, 97% of them women, were aware of the policies on domestic violence she instituted and where they could turn for help.

“Employees need to know” their companies neither condone nor allow them to be instigators or victims of domestic violence of sexual assault, Dray-Bardon said. Her experiences have led her to ask other employers to support the “no More” campaign.

PICTURED: Two speakers at the “No More” press event: Danielle Cantrell and Eileen Dray-Bardon, director of the Columbiana County Department of Jobs and Family Services, and Danielle Cantrell, a vice president at Cortland Banks.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.