Special Reports

Jobless benefits designed for domestic violence victims

WASHINGTON - Legislation to ensure that victims of domestic violence have the financial independence they need to deal with their situation was reintroduced Thursday by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Shoreline).

The bill would guarantee unemployment benefits to those who have to flee their jobs as a result of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It also would require employers to give them unpaid leave in order to deal with their problems.

The legislation also would bar insurance companies from discriminating against domestic abuse victims. Many insurance companies now believe such victims have engaged in "high-risk behavior" and have denied them life insurance and medical insurance, Murray said.

"This bill would remove the economic barriers that too often leave victims in their homes in abusive situations," Murray told reporters. Murray introduced similar legislation in the last Congress along with the late Minnesota Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, but after a hearing the bill went nowhere.

Though the death of Crystal Brame at the hands of her husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, has raised awareness this year about domestic abuse in Washington state, Murray said the same isn't true elsewhere.

"Nationally, it is still difficult to get people to focus on it," she said.

As many as half of the 2 million women a year who suffer physical abuse, sexual abuse or stalking lose their jobs, at least in part because of their situations, said Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"Economic security is a major obstacle for abused women or women being stalked," Jacobs said.

Washington state already grants unemployment benefits to domestic assault victims who have had to quit or have lost their jobs, but Murray said that many other states do not.

Les Blumenthal: 1-202-383-0008