COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Lawmakers may soon consider a bill that would extend unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence if they are forced to leave their jobs to escape from their abuser.
The decision to leave an abuser is a personal one that can be complicated and difficult, according to Emily Kulow with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
Kulow has been assisting victims of domestic violence for nearly 15 years and has worked with victims seeking a way out of an abusive situation.
Kulow said there are several barriers preventing victims from leaving, barriers she said need to be removed before they become fatal to the victim.
While the abuser can be the most difficult barrier to get past, according to Kulow, financial independence is another. It plays a major role in the victim’s decision-making process.
Money is needed to survive – for food, clothing, housing and transportation to the job that provides that money to begin with.
However, when a victim leaves an abusive relationship, the abuser often seeks to regain control of the victim or power over them. According to Kulow, the abuser will search for the victim in places they are known to frequent, like family member’s homes and their place of work.
It is the place of work where victims can be the most vulnerable. Confrontations can lead to negative outcomes that affect the lives of not just the abuser and the victim, but the victim’s co-workers if things get out of hand.
“We hear about the really horrible crimes that happen. That’s not every single time, but it is a very real fear that you have to take into consideration,” said Kulow.
If a victim needs to leave a job to escape from an abuser, they are often left without an income on which to support themselves while they re-establish their living situation and navigate whatever legal steps they are taking.
Two Democrat lawmakers, State Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (Cleveland-D) and Rep. Jack Cera (Bellaire-D), have introduced a bill that would make domestic abuse victims eligible for unemployment compensation if they have to quit to escape.
Kulow said the legislation would be a major benefit for victims who otherwise could be penniless because their abuser controls their finances.
On Monday, Erin Dulaney walked through the rain carrying a bag of diapers. When asked what she thought about domestic violence, she said, “I’m a victim of it.”
From Dulaney’s description of her situation, she sounds exactly like someone the new bill would benefit.
“He found out where I was working, and he chased me from job to job,” said Dulaney. “It’s been hell.”
She says she kept having to leave jobs to try and shake him, but he would keep finding her. It got so bad, she said she couldn’t financially make ends meet anymore and ended up in and out of shelters.
“If I can’t keep a stable home or a stable place of employment, how am I supposed to be able to provide for my kids?” asked Dulaney.
That is when she said the state gave custody of her children to her abuser.
Dulaney said had this bill been in place when she originally left her abuser, she may have been able to keep custody of her children.
“I would have been able to pay my rent, even if I would have had to donate plasma to cover utilities, that would have been a feasible option,” said Dulaney.
When asked if it supports the bill, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce issued this statement:
“The Ohio Chamber has yet to take a position on HB 508, but at a time when Ohio’s unemployment compensation trust fund is nearly broke, expanding benefit eligibility should only be done if other structural changes to the system are made that will put our trust fund on a path towards solvency.”
Last General Assembly, then-Speaker Pro Tempore State Representative and current State Senator Kirk Schuring was leading an effort to resolve the issue with the Unemployment Compensation situation.
The attempt lasted the entire two-years and nearly two dozen hearings, but failed to turn his desired result as his bill died at the end of the 132nd General Assembly.
According to his calculations, Schuring said, in its current state, the unemployment compensation fund would be empty in less than six months if the state gets hit with a major recession.
Dulaney said whatever happens with the bill introduced by the Democrats, she just hopes they figure it out quickly.
“While they’re taking their time, every day that I’m away from my kids is every day that I could be doing better for my children,” said Dulaney.
Valarie Mitchell is another survivor of domestic violence. She, too, had escaped from a bad situation.
It was not easy for her, either, and money once more played a major role.
Even though she was able to find shelter with family, getting a job was a daunting experience.
“I was even afraid to go out looking for a job because there was always threats,” said Mitchell.
When asked if she thought lawmakers should pass the bill to grant victims access to unemployment compensation for documented cases of domestic violence, she was favorable to the idea.
“It’s certainly worth looking into, it certainly is,” said Mitchell. “It would be very important because it could help the situation greatly.”
According to Kulow, one in four women have or will be subject to domestic violence in their lifetime. It took less than 5 minutes to find two women, in the shadow of the Ohio Statehouse.