Most Workplace Violence on Women Hidden, Says Center Report

Judith Saidel

It's dangerous out there in the workplace, especially for women with jobs in health care, education and social welfare, according to a new study by the University's Center for Women in Government. The report was issued in cooperation with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO).

Workplace violence — including physical assaults, threats, rape, robbery and murder — is a significant risk for women, the report found. The Center characterized most workplace violence against women as "hidden" violence, and said it was often committed behind closed doors by unarmed patients, clients or students whom the women know.

Government employees are several times more likely to be assaulted than private sector employees, according to the AFSCME-commissioned study, which is based on the newest data available from government sources. AFSCME represents 1.3 million government employees, 51 percent of whom are women, who work predominantly in human and protective services.

The report also found that the annual rate of nonfatal assaults against women working in state government is 8.6 times higher than the rate for women in the private sector. Women working in local government are 5.5 times more likely to be assaulted than are private sector women.

Judith Saidel, executive director of the Center, said most workplace violence is committed out of public view in institutions and office buildings.

"Workplace violence against women is clearly a serious problem that we are only now beginning to recognize," said Saidel. Unfortunately, she said, it is often not even likely to be considered a crime by the victim or society.

AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee said he was not surprised by the findings of the study, adding that he hoped it would open the eyes of employers. "This study illustrates what we at AFSCME have known for a long time — if you're a working woman, you're at a greater risk of being a victim of violence. Employers must realize that few responsibilities are more important than making the workplace safe and free of violence."

Most workplace violence is predictable and preventable, said Catherine O'Reilly Collette, director of AFSCME's Women's Rights Department. "The violence that occurs in the workplace is senseless and could often be prevented if only the employer would take adequate precuations. These precautions need not be costly, but they do require a longterm commitment to safety."

Sharon L. Harlan, who prepared the study as the Center's director of research, added that official statistics do not reveal the full extent of the problem. Experts believe that many incidents of violence are never reported, said Harlan, who recently assumed a position as research associate professor in the University's School of Public Health.

Some highlights from the report:

The Center for Women in Government, part of the University's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, was founded in 1978 and works to identify and remove barriers to employment equity for women in public service and to develop women's leadership in the public policy arena.

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