CLEVELAND (WJW) — When 14th Ward Councilperson Jasmin Santana was a teen, her mother had to quit her job so they could escape domestic violence and seek safety at a shelter, she said.
Santana’s mother and stepfather worked at the same factory, so “the only way we could leave the household without him knowing was after-hours, when he was already home,” she said.
A victim of domestic violence may miss more than 100 hours of work, Santana said, and about 60% of those who miss work end up losing their job because of it.
New legislation to be introduced Wednesday by Cleveland city council members would provide the city’s non-union employees up to 60 hours of “paid safe leave” if they become victims of domestic or sexual violence. That would give them time to “tend to their safety and personal issues,” Santana said during a media briefing Wednesday.
Part-time employees would receive 30 hours of paid safe leave.
Council President Blaine Griffin, 4th Ward, said he expects paid safe leave to be “one of the significant legislative issues” up for council deliberation at Wednesday’s meeting. He noted that rates of domestic and partner violence “spiked” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused shutdowns and economic uncertainties.
He said he expects the legislation to pass “sometime around September.”
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s 24/7 hotline has had 25% more calls compared to this time last year, said Sondra Miller, president and CEO. Last year, the center offered services to more than 10,000 victims of sexual violence, more than half of whom lived in Cleveland.
“Survivors of sexual violence face many barriers on their road to recovery,” she said. “Those barriers require time — time away from their job for medical appointments; time to navigate court hearings; time to focus on their mental health and recovery; time away from their jobs that many survivors cannot afford to lose.”
As many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of domestic violence, Santana said.
“We in city council want to do everything we can to protect our employees, protect our women in this community,” Griffin said.
The legislation would also apply to the children and parents of city workers and victims of stalking, said 17th Ward Councilperson Charles Slife.
“We’re truly working to make Cleveland a safe city for all our employees and this is just one of the ways we’re doing it,” he said.
Council members down the road intend to propose more assistance for city workers like paid family leave, child care assistance and equal pay — “things that actually make our families whole,” said Stephanie Howse, 7th Ward councilperson.
“These are public servants who are doing amazing work; who are doing hard work. And when they’re in a moment of crisis, I think it’s a responsibility for those of us who are in leadership to step up and be a partner with them, and not punish them when they are surviving very challenging times,” she said.