Online program from UI helps employees identify violent relationships

IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa researcher has created a free online training program that companies can use to help employees identify warning signs of intimate partner violence, or what’s also been called domestic abuse.

Beth Livingston, a UI professor of management and entrepreneurship, says the Abuse is Not Love program provides strategies employers can use to help at-risk employees before the situation becomes explosive.

“We have built an evidence-based training to help make people aware of what intimate partner violence actually is,” Livingston says, “because this sort of awareness of the warning signs of violence — before it gets to a point where we’re worried about people’s physical well being — can allow us to intervene in ways that keeps people safe.”

Livingston says the COVID era has demonstrated that companies have an interest in the overall well-being of their employees and the ways in which the things that happen at home affect work. “This is an acknowledgment that our employees do not cease being our employees when they go home and the things that happen at home can absolutely affect them at work,” Livingston says. “I think companies have, if not an interest, a responsibility to think about how to keep their employees safe.”

Intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women. It includes physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse, as well as controlling behaviors by an intimate partner. Statistics show a woman is killed every three days as a result of intimate partner violence.

“Warning signs like jealousy that’s meant to control, controlling the sorts of things that people wear and the places they go,” Livingston says. “Getting passwords for your computer, for your email, to intrude upon your personal life, and isolating you from friends and family, all the way down to humiliating you in public, trying to make you feel small.” The workplace is especially critical for intimate partner violence as Livingston’s research shows work is one of few places where victims can find respite from abuse, and the income they earn can bring independence from their abuser.

“When employees are dealing with stress and pain and consternation at home, it absolutely spills over into their satisfaction at work and their productivity and their distraction at work,” Livingston says. “We know with so many employees working at home, that they might be working in the same space that their abuser is holding court over them.”

A CDC report finds intimate partner violence costs about one-billion dollars in lost time and productivity every year in the U.S, and a recent European study found more than 20% of intimate partner violence victims report increased absenteeism from work, and 50-percent say it affects the quality of their work.