Hollywood’s Production Problem: The Gender Gap in Film

You’ve watched Jurassic World, right? If you have, you’re one of about 98 million other people since it came out in June (and if you haven’t, let’s just say you’re missing out).

It’s definitely blockbuster season: production studios are churning out more action-packed digitally-enhanced movies than ever, hoping to rake in the billions of dollars the market has to offer. Movies now are bigger and more lucrative than ever; the top three grossing films of this year were Jurassic WorldAvengers: Age of Ultron, and Furious 7. Bigger doesn’t just mean in value: production crews have had to grow in size to produce, film, and edit such a visual spectacle. You would think that the pool of applicants and employees to fill such positions would be growing in diversity, but unfortunately what most movies have in common, both on the screen and off, is a vast underrepresentation of women.

In 1985 Cartoon artist Alison Bechdel inadvertently created the Bechdel test, which can be applied to any movie, TV show, or book. The criteria are threefold: in the story there must be (1) at least two women, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about anything other than a man. The amount of movies that don’t meet this bar are disturbingly low. Why is this? Beyond blatant sexism in Hollywood, the problem has its roots in lack of female representation in behind-the-scenes film production.

The New York Film Academy has released an infographic that shows the vast disproportion of female to males in the industry. Among the top 6 prestigious (and, consequently, lucrative) jobs, women barely crack the 25% mark, with especially abysmal representation in cinematography (2%).


Across the industry there is a perception that the film industry is a gendered market place; directing a profitable movie is a “man’s game” while women feed more into a niche, independent audience. A recent report by the Female Filmmakers Initiative (co-founded by Sundance Institute and Women in Film, LA) cites the predominance of men in gate-keeping positions and a male-dominated industry socialization process as one of the reasons why women have less opportunity to climb the ranks within their field. The same study mentions that women are provided with little support and few opportunities, and that their women’s competency was constantly doubted, especially in certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.

This is not the only male-dominated field where these issues are presented. In STEM, women face similar hardships; as WOW reports in their Review of the Current Research on Women in Community College STEM programs, women in STEM classrooms often experience a “chilly climate”, where they report being the only woman in the classroom, feeling isolated and unsupported, and with faculty who have lower expectations of their abilities to succeed. Lack of academic and social support also played a role: female students reported less guidance and counseling, leading to a lack of understanding of career and academic pathways in their field.

WOW’s report also includes best practices to close the gender gap, which are applicable to the sub-fields within the film industry where women are also underrepresented. Gender targeted recruitment strategies (including outreach information that prominently show women), endorsing viable and diverse role models (including the opportunity for prospective students and professionals to interact with expert, experienced women), and staff development within the field (including training on gender equality and nondiscrimination) are viable ways to begin closing this vast gender gap.

The cry for more female-led movies has gained momentum within the last few years; Amy Schumer’s new comedy Trainwreck has made a whopping $82 million, and the all-female reboot of the 1984 classic Ghostbusters is set to be released in next year. What we can all hope for is that this trend continues and that need for more female filmmakers becomes more apparent.



Breaking Down Barriers, One Goal at a Time

I’ve always been a huge fan of soccer. As a Uruguayan, I often joke that our chief exports aren’t really soybeans, but soccer fanatics. Whenever the World Cup rolls around, I never miss a game, and I was devastated when Uruguay was knocked out by Colombia last summer. And let’s not even speak of this year’s embarrassing performance in the Copa America. But as much as Uruguay is soccer-obsessed, it’s always disconcerting to me that they have no significant female soccer presence on the global stage. The United States, however, is a whole different matter.

On July 5th, the United States beat Japan 5-2 in an astounding display of skill and sheer passion, rightly winning the title of World Champions. Carli Lloyd’s Hat Trick, which happened within the first sixteen minutes of play, was greeted in my living room with open mouths, incredulous laughter, and “can you believe that just happened??” stares. Although Japan made a good attempt to even the score, the game was truly a world class performance from world class players. This historic win, which makes it the United States Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) third World Title since 1999, can be seen as a manifestation of the legacy of Title IX, which was signed a little over 43 years ago.

Title IX has vastly increased female participation in sports: the number of girls playing sports in high school has increased tenfold since it was signed, and six times as many women now compete in college athletics. But as much as Title IX is known for increasing equality in athletics, its impact goes far beyond sports.

Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination in all federally funded programs and allows more women to participate in male-dominated activities. The law has had a huge role in expanding opportunities for women in not just the sports arena, but, less often recognized, in women’s access to educational and job training opportunities – where they remain underrepresented.

Under Title IX, programs that receive federal funding are prohibited from discriminating against students on the basis of sex and federal grants even require schools to take proactive steps to ensure women and girls have equal access to educational resources. The law applies to K-12 educational opportunities as well as postsecondary education. One example from the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education’s Title IX at 40 report describes the breadth of Title IX protections, even beyond sexual harassment, pregnancy, and athletics. “[I]f the use of a counseling test or other instrument results in a substantial underrepresentation of women in STEM courses, the school must take action to ensure that such disproportion is not the result of discrimination in the instrument, its application, or counseling practices in order to be in compliance with Title IX.”

In STEM fields, the percentage of female workers is actually declining; WOW’s fact sheet on Women in Technology reports not only on this unequal gender representation, but on their difference in pay; technology occupations with the highest percent female have the lowest earnings. Women face many obstacles in not just getting degrees in these fields, but also in their integration and retention into these male-dominated jobs. Barriers include lack of mentors, role models, and gender and cultural support. This lack of support can account for the large percentage of women who graduate with STEM degrees, but then find themselves unable to continue with STEM as a career and emphasizes the importance of Title IX in expanding women’s access to and success in these jobs.


Beyond STEM, early education and exposure to career and technical education (CTE) and non-traditional jobs, such as trades, opens the door for high-paying and rewarding careers; careers where women have also seen societal and systematic barriers to entry. CTE is offered in middle and high schools, career and technical centers, and other postsecondary institutions to increase the total pool of skilled workers. Traditionally, women have been clustered in retail sales, services, and clerical positions, all of which have a medium pay far below male-dominated jobs.

NCWGE Women Earnings

According to a report done by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE), a traditionally female job, such as an administrative assistant, makes an average wage of $32,000 per year, while working as a surveying technician (a non-traditional job for women), makes an average of $63,000. It is important to note that Title IX has also helped men gain access fast-growing non-traditional jobs as well, such as nursing.

In fact, Title IX is responsible for ending the practice of boys being funneled into shop and woodworking classes while girls took home economics. The law made it illegal for educational institutions to direct students into coursework by gender and required schools to, like STEM education, ensure the disproportionate representation in courses was not caused by discriminatory practices.

Although early education and access to these occupations can make great strides towards closing the wage gap, failures in implementation and enforcement undermine its effectiveness. Tracking of this data, incentives for increasing women’s participation in nontraditional occupations, and resources for effective recruitment, such as WOW’s Pink-to-Green Toolkit are all essential for equal access to CTE.

The United States Women’s National Team is a symbol for the continuous push for equal representation and equal treatment in the athletic and academic worlds. They are paving the way for a wider cultural acceptance of women in a traditionally male role, and soccer is one of the many avenues where women are not only able to dominate, but dominate on a global level.



Legal Assistance for Survivors Could Help Fight Domestic Violence

Survivors attempting to escape an abusive relationship are often faced with an overwhelming number of legal issues. Foremost, they may need to secure a protection order, a legal document that bars abusers from continuing physical violence and contacting a victim. Protection orders can also include economic provisions such as granting the victim possession of a home or vehicle or requiring the offender to pay for rent, utilities, medical expenses or damaged property. In addition, survivors may need to resolve legal issues including child custody, child support, spousal support, divorce, immigration and housing to keep themselves and their children safe from harm and economically secure. Unfortunately, many survivors find themselves without representation or the resources they need to navigate a complex legal system. A new report from the Center of Public Integrity explains how increasing the amount of free or subsidized legal services available to survivors would not only increase access to legal protections and help keep survivors safe from further abuse, but would also lower the overall rates of domestic violence and its substantial cost to society.

Many survivors have limited options when trying to secure legal protections from abusers. Since women in the lowest income households are seven times more likely to experience abuse than women in the highest income households, costly private attorneys are inaccessible for many survivors. They may choose to represent themselves in court as a pro se litigant, but the level of knowledge, financial resources and time needed for fees, court filings and hearings can seem insurmountable for an inexperienced litigant. Family court judges have reported that it is common for pro se litigants to fail to receive the justice they deserve due to confusion surrounding court processes and their mishandling of cases. This is particularly problematic in domestic violence cases, where judges may perceive a victim’s inability to remember details, delays in reporting and choices not to leave an abusive partner as a lack of credibility rather than a typical response to a traumatic situation. This lack of legal expertise can lead to a pronounced difference in the outcome of a case: one study found that litigants represented by an attorney received a protection order in 83% of cases, as opposed to 32% of unrepresented litigants.

Currently, there are some free and low-cost legal services available to survivors, but they do not come close to meeting the vast demand for services. Legal aid attorneys are federally funded to provide free services in civil cases for anyone making under 125% of the poverty line. However, they turn away over 1 million clients per year due to limited capacity, leaving eight out of ten eligible people without any form of legal representation. Domestic violence service providers attempt to meet some of the demand, but a recent census of providers found that only 11% were able to offer their clients legal representation.

The need for increased free or subsidized representation for domestic violence survivors is clear. As the report describes, the cost of providing legal assistance to survivors is outweighed by its benefits. Domestic violence accounts for more than $9 billion per year in health care expenses, lost productivity, lost lifetime earnings, criminal justice involvement and social service usage. Expanding legal assistance can significantly lower rates of domestic violence by creating pathways out of abusive relationships for more survivors, which results in lower economic costs. While there is still a need for further research around how to best expand and deliver these services, free or subsidized legal assistance is a promising approach to provide critical support for survivors during one of the most challenging periods of their life while benefiting society as a whole.


Sexual Abuse can lead to Incarceration for Girls

A new report from the Human Rights Project for Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Ms. Foundation for Women reveals a startling look into how the sexual assault of girls can create direct pathways into incarceration. Earlier studies have demonstrated how pervasive sexual assault is in this population: almost half of female rape survivors are under 18, while 15% of sexual assault and rape survivors are under 12. However, this new report explains how early abuse, instead of being addressed with trauma-informed health care and support services, can lead to incarceration and repeated retraumatization, particularly for girls of color.

As the report describes, one of the strongest predictors for incarceration of girls is past abuse. In Oregon’s juvenile justice system, a shocking 93% of girls have a history of sexual or physical abuse, and in South Carolina, 81% report a history of sexual violence. This type of trauma can lead to behaviors that result in incarceration. For example, many girls run away from home to escape abuse, while others engage in nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting or drug use due to untreated trauma symptoms. For some girls, their sexual abuse is the direct cause of their detention: many victims of trafficking under the age of 18 are charged with prostitution, despite being too young to legally consent to sex. Once in jail, these girls lack access to the vital physical and mental health care needed to address the trauma of sexual assault, and in fact, are often retraumatized by being forced into invasive and punitive environments. This problem is particularly severe for girls of color, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the incarcerated population. While 33.2 percent of incarcerated girls are black and 3.5% are Native American, these races only make up 14% and 1% of the overall youth population, respectively.

Incarceration can be devastating on the ability of girls and young women to establish economic security and protect themselves from future abuse. One study found that juvenile incarceration makes youth 13% less likely to graduate high school, while another found that in a sample of incarcerated 9th graders, less than 15% completed their high school education after release. Women without high school diplomas are significantly more likely to be unemployed, have lower wages, experience poorer health outcomes and be reliant on public assistance. This is on top of the impact of trauma from sexual assault and incarceration: individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder work fewer hours, have higher rates of unemployment, and are less likely to complete high school or college. Incarcerated youth are also 22% more likely to be reincarcerated again as adults, continuing the cycle of trauma and arrest.

This report paints a grim picture of the links between early sexual assault and incarceration, but it is an important reminder that girls with histories of sexual abuse should be treated as victims rather than criminals. The authors point to a number of policy options that could be valuable tools to protect girls with sexual abuse histories. These include Safe Harbor laws, which provide criminal immunity to underage victims of sex trafficking,  the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires sexual assault screening and appropriate physical and mental health resources for incoming inmates, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, comprehensive legislation governing juvenile justice practices that has not been reauthorized since 2002. This report can serve as an impetus to ensure that these policies are enacted and enforced across the country, and that our policies for dealing with juvenile offenders focus on helping them recover from trauma instead of victimizing them all over again.


Economic Insecurity Rates Reveal Alarming Levels of Senior Insecurity, Wide Variation by State, Gender, Race

WOW’s newly released Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans brief series, an analysis of 2013 Census Bureau data, suggests that 49% of US retired seniors live in households which lack incomes required for economic security. WOW’s analysis demonstrates the vulnerability of older adults who live above the poverty line but whose incomes are insufficient to pay for basic needs and protect them from future poverty. These individuals find themselves in a “security gap”—with incomes too high to qualify for many public assistance programs, yet too low to achieve real economic stability.

“When the White House Conference on Aging convenes on July 13th, national attention will be focused on both the contributions and needs of older Americans. Many will be surprised to find out that almost half of our seniors may be just one accident or unexpected expense away from poverty or being unable to stay in their homes,” said WOW President and CEO Amanda Andere. “It is clear that seniors in some states are faring much better than those in other states, and that senior women—particularly senior women of color—are experiencing the most economic insecurity. Remarkably, more than two-thirds of single minority women are suffering insecurity.”

The first brief in the Living Below the Line series, “Insecurity in the States,” ranks states by their Elder Economic Insecurity Rates (EEIRs)—the percentage of independent seniors (65+) living in households with annual incomes that do not allow economic security. EEIRs enable state and local governments to better understand and benchmark the proportions and demographic characteristics of seniors at risk of financial instability or poverty. State EEIRs range widely (from 34% in Wyoming to 57% in Vermont), but in all states more than one-third of elders are at risk of being unable to afford basic needs and age in their own homes.

EEIRs 2015 Brief 1

Brief No. 2, “Women,” demonstrates that nearly half of all fully retired women aged 65 and older who live alone or with an elder spouse have incomes that fall short of economic security. EEIRsare higher for women than for men in every senior subgroup studied. Retired elder men studied report typical annual incomes 71% higher than typical retired elder women’s income ($25,914 compared to $15,718).

EEIRs 2015 Brief 2

Brief No. 3, “Race/Ethnicity.” finds severe levels of economic insecurity among elders of color. The brief reports that while EEIRsare high among seniors of all races and ethnicities, rates for retired seniors of color are particularly high. Among retired elder-only households, 75% of Hispanic-headed households, 70% of African-American-headed households, and 62% of Asian-headed households lack incomes that allow basic economic security.

EEIRs 2015 Brief 3

As the senior population grows, the number of men and women of color retiring into or aging into insecurity or poverty is likely to increase as well.  Federal, state and local governments must learn to recognize the security gap and those who fall into it. They must also consider whether or not their policies contribute to the security of those seniors who live above the poverty line, as they require services and supports that go beyond emergency aid and lead to intermediate- and long-term stability goals. Economic security, rather than “not-poverty,” is the goal to which elders and those who represent and serve them should aspire.

The Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans series can be found at www.wowonline.org. 2014 Elder Index data can be found in WOW’s Economic Security Database.


New HUD Report Illuminates Options for Survivors of Domestic Violence

This week, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in partnership with Vanderbilt University, released the short-term findings of their Family Options Study, which followed more than 2,000 families experiencing homelessness over an 18 month period. Their research evaluated the effect of several types of interventions on housing stability and the well-being of homeless adults and children. The families in the sample were randomly assigned one of the interventions: housing choice vouchers, community-based rapid rehousing, project based transitional housing, and care as usual. The study found that housing choice vouchers, which grant families permanent subsidies to use in the private housing market, had the greatest effectiveness. While the vouchers were of similar cost or less expensive than the other interventions, they decreased rates of future homelessness, lowered psychological distress and improved mental health. They were also shown to decrease the prevalence of domestic violence. In the six months prior to the survey, families receiving housing choice vouchers had half the incidents of domestic violence as those families receiving care as usual. This result supports earlier HUD qualitative research in which housing subsidy recipients reported that their subsidies helped them escape abusive situations and establish new lives independently.

More effective services are essential to ensure that every domestic violence survivor has the opportunity to access safe housing. In the new HUD study, nearly half of their sample had experienced physical abuse or threats of physical abuse from an intimate partner. Other studies have found even higher rates of violence:  one study in Massachusetts found that 63% of homeless women were victims of intimate partner violence. Other studies have found that between 22 and 57% of women become homeless as a direct result of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Although domestic violence survivors make up a disproportionate share of homeless individuals, they do not always receive the services they need. In 2014, a 24 hour census of domestic violence service providers across the country found that although around 36,000 women were receiving residential services, another 6,126 women were turned away in a single day, largely due to lack of funding and limited resources. The ability for survivors of domestic violence to access housing assistance after leaving an abusive situation is critical. Abusers often isolate their victims from social support, so they may not have friends or family who could take them in. In addition, abusers will frequently control their victims’ finances, limit their access to cash and credit, and prevent them from working, so they may have little or no money available to pay for another place to stay. Without access to shelter, they may have few other options than to sleep on the streets or in their car or return to their abuser. Studies in two different cities found that 44% of homeless women have stayed in abusive relationships because they had nowhere else to go.

The need for improved services and better funding for homeless individuals fleeing domestic violence is clear. Domestic violence survivors need secure, stable housing options to keep them safe from harm and to help them begin to rebuild their lives. Research like HUD’s Family Options Study is an encouraging step in identifying innovative and cost-effective methods of enabling housing security and preventing future incidents of domestic violence. While the long-term results of the study will not be released until 2017, these early findings lay the groundwork for smarter housing policies and more informed services for families experiencing homelessness.


Supreme Court Decision Protects Against Housing Discrimination

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down a number of critical decisions that impacted millions of Americans. While the nation is still buzzing about their decisions on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, another ruling that plays a major role in the fight against housing discrimination received less attention. In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. the Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., the Supreme Court confirmed that housing policies that have a “disparate impact” based on race, gender, religion, national origin, disability or family status are prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. This applies to policies that may not explicitly intend to discriminate against certain groups but still create a pattern of discrimination. The disparate impact standard of the Fair Housing Act has been a critical tool in dismantling institutional racial discrimination in housing and lending, and although less well known, it has been a valuable asset for survivors of domestic violence.

The Fair Housing Act was first used to prevent domestic violence housing discrimination in the case of Alvera v. the CBM Group, Inc. After Tiffani Alvera was attacked by her husband and hospitalized, she gave a copy of her protection order to the landlord to have her husband evicted from their shared residence. The landlord responded by ordering both her and her husband to vacate the property within 24 hours. She was told that a member of her household “inflicted personal injury upon the landlord or other tenants,” which was grounds to terminate her lease. The fact that Alvera herself was the victim of this violence did not deter her landlord from ordering her out. When she filed a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, the court agreed that although the policy was not directly intended to discriminate against domestic violence victims, it still had a disparate impact and amounted to gender discrimination.

There are many ways landlords can discriminate against tenants currently experiencing or with a history of domestic violence. They may refuse to rent to applicants with a history of DV. For current tenants, they may fail to renew their lease, evict them or raise their rent as punishment for their abusers’ actions. Some localities also have nuisance ordinances which heavily fine or punish landlords who have the police called to their buildings too many times. This puts pressure on landlords to discourage tenants from seeking help or to evict them if they call the police multiple times. In one case, Lakisha Briggs was warned, after calling the police for violence committed by her ex-boyfriend, that she would be evicted from her apartment if she kept calling. She endured two more brutal attacks from her ex-boyfriend out of too much fear to report it, but was evicted anyway when other residents called the police. Although this case was settled in court and the ordinance repealed, these types of policies are still popular across the country. One study of Milwaukee found that in a single year, 157 nuisance citations were given to landlords for domestic violence incidents, disproportionately directed at women from low-income, mostly black neighborhoods. In the majority of these cases the landlord responded with immediate eviction.

Currently, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have statutes protecting against some form of domestic violence housing discrimination. However, many of these statutes are narrow and do not cover the full range of possible discrimination, leaving many victims unprotected by state policies. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision ensures the Fair Housing Act can continue to offer relief for anyone affected by discriminatory housing policies and prevent domestic violence victims from having to make the impossible choice between keeping their housing and protecting their safety.

Source: ICPH, Source: Legal Momentum, State Law Guide: Housing Protections for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence, June 2013.



The Heavy Cost of Revenge Porn

Last week, the fight against revenge porn had several major victories, as Vermont, Oregon and Texas all passed laws criminalizing revenge porn. Google also announced that it would allow victims of revenge porn to request that their images be removed from its search results. Revenge porn is the practice of publicly sharing nude or sexual photos and videos taken in the context of an intimate relationship in order to seek revenge on a former partner. These photos can be uploaded to a website with a global audience within minutes, but the repercussions for the victim can last a lifetime. In 59% of cases, these images are posted alongside private information such as full names, links to social media profiles, phone numbers and home addresses, leaving the subject open to a wide range of harassment, discrimination, stalking and violence.

Revenge porn victims suffer from severe consequences after having their private photos shared online.  One survey found that 93% of revenge porn victims reported significant emotional distress, and many experienced psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Victims can also experience major threats to their economic security. Their photos are widely accessible online and if co-workers or employers find the images, it may put their career in jeopardy. Many victims report losing their job after their pictures were discovered and some offenders will even send the photos directly to victims’ workplaces in an attempt to get them fired. These pictures may also complicate the search for a new job, since 80% of employers conduct web searches on potential new hires before an interview. A photo posted with identifying information may come up in search results, influencing employers’ hiring decisions. Some victims must also take drastic and costly steps to protect their safety, including changing their names, leaving their jobs or schools, or moving to new residences to escape pervasive harassment.

In states without revenge porn laws, victims may face staggering financial hurdles in their efforts to have their photos removed from the internet. Many victims have to rely on civil suits to attempt to receive compensation, and must hire a lawyer for a lengthy legal battle that may draw even more attention to the photos. Others may claim that they have a copyright over nude images that they took themselves, and send takedown notices to each website hosting their images, which may also require a lawyer to draft an effective letter. The cost of these legal services may be prohibitive for many victims. Even for those who can afford an attorney, winning a single suit or having one website take their photo down is not the end of the battle. Photos can be continually shared and reposted, making legal efforts to locate and remove the photos a process that can last years. This can exhaust a victim’s resources without any guarantee that the photos and the resulting harm and stigma will be gone for good.

Fortunately, the national climate around revenge porn is changing. States are rapidly implementing revenge porn laws that give victims a greater opportunity for justice and discourage perpetration, and sharing revenge porn is now a criminal offense in 23 states. Google’s new policy may also have a powerful impact in freeing victims from the fear that their images will pop up in web searches by employers, family, friends or romantic partners, particularly if other major search engines follow Google’s example. While the costs and consequences of revenge porn can be high, these changes provide hope that soon victims across the country will have the protections they need to take back control of their lives and keep revenge porn from damaging their happiness, safety and economic security.


Student Domestic Violence Leads to Future Economic Insecurity

Recently, the conversation around campus sexual assault has drawn national attention to issues of campus safety. However, as Katie Baker at Buzzfeed pointed out last week, domestic violence on campus is often overlooked despite being as pervasive as sexual assault. Domestic violence can include sexual assault, but can also include physical, emotional, psychological or financial abuse. Women ages 20-24 have the highest lifetime risk of domestic violence, followed by women ages 16-19. A 2014 survey of dating college women found that 43% reported experiencing some form of abusive dating behaviors, with 22% reporting physical abuse, threats of physical abuse or sexual violence. Younger students are also affected: a new CDC survey found that one in five teen girls has experienced dating violence, as well as one in ten teen boys.

Students may be less equipped to recognize and report dating violence due to lack of experience with healthy relationships: around 57% of college students reported finding it difficult to identify dating violence. However, reporting and intervention is critical, since domestic violence among teens may cause long-term harm to educational and career prospects. As students in this age group are in the process of gaining an education that is essential for their future careers and economic security, domestic violence can be a severe barrier to success. Abusers may destroy their partners’ books or school work, or cause injuries that keep them from going to class. They may be emotionally abusive and discourage or attempt to stop their partner from pursuing certain goals. Adolescent girls in abusive relationships are also three times more likely to become pregnant than girls not in violent relationships, which can drastically affect their education and financial stability. Only 38% of girls who have babies before age 18 finish high school by age 22, and they earn $84,000 less during the first 15 years of motherhood than those who give birth at age 20 or 21.

These factors all combine to seriously impact the future earnings potential of a survivor. One ten year longitudinal study found that teen survivors of physical and sexual violence had poorer academic performance and lower academic attainment, which was linked to lower labor force participation, occupational status and income in early adulthood. While this study did not identify whether or not violence was perpetrated by an intimate partner, another recent study of low-income single mothers found that survivors of domestic violence that occurred during adolescence obtained significantly less education than their peers. Each year of education lost was associated with a decrease of $895 in earnings per year.

Although domestic violence among teens and young adults can have negative effects on their future, there are resources to help. Title IX protections, widely publicized for their role in campus sexual assault cases, also apply to domestic violence. Students can contact their Title IX coordinators for accommodations to keep them safe, such as adjusting their class schedule or switching their dorm room. Students may also be able to contact the police, pursue a disciplinary hearing against their abuser, obtain a protection order or access off-campus domestic violence services. However, for any of these resources to work, there must be increased awareness about what domestic violence looks like for young adults and what options are available. Better education is essential for students, families, and school staff and faculty to help recognize domestic violence and provide early intervention so that survivors can succeed academically and prepare for a bright future. WOW’s brief on Adolescent Survivors & Economic Security offers more suggestions on how service providers, justice system professionals, policy makers and educational institutions can better address the needs of teen and young adult survivors.


The Fight for LGBTQ Economic Equality

There is a lot to celebrate this LGBT Pride Month. The nation is waiting to hear the Supreme Court’s verdict on whether or not same-sex marriage is protected under the Constitution, which could potentially strike a decisive victory for equal rights and extend marriage equality across the US. Regardless of the outcome, the fight for marriage equality has already achieved significant wins at the state level: 37 states and DC have marriage equality laws, protecting 71% of the population. Considering that no state allowed marriage equality prior to 2004, this rapid progress is a testament to the power of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Marriage can provide significant financial benefits to same-sex couples by giving them access to each other’s social security benefits, health insurance and pensions, and by allowing them to make joint decisions on financial planning and tax preparation.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure equality for LGBTQ individuals in areas such as employment, access to services, and judicial and police protections. Currently, only nineteen states and DC ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment (see map below), housing and public accommodations, with an additional three states banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. This leaves more than half the country without anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. This discrimination can lead to harsh economic realities for LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ individuals are disproportionately likely to live in poverty: single LGBTQ adults with children are three times as likely to be near the poverty line as non-LGBTQ singles with children, while LGBTQ couples with children are twice as likely to be near the poverty line as their non-LGBTQ counterparts.  Around 15% of transgender individuals earn less than $10,000 per year, compared to only 4% of the general population.

Source: Movement Advancement Project

These economic struggles complicate the experience of domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships. If survivors are reliant on an abusive partner for shelter, transportation, food and other needs, it may be extremely challenging for them to leave and start over independently. In 74% of cases, economic insecurity contributes to a survivor staying with an abuser for longer. Studies have found that the rates of domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships are the same or higher than for non-LGBTQ couples. The National Violence Against Women survey found that 21.5% of men and 35.4% of women living with same-sex partners experienced physical domestic violence. This was higher than the rates for cohabitating opposite-sex partners, at 7.1% for men and 20.4% for women. Transgender survivors are almost twice as likely to experience physical violence in an IPV situation as other LGBTQ survivors.

In addition, LGBTQ survivors may face unique barriers towards accessing essential domestic violence services.  LGBTQ individuals may be wary of calling the police due to fear of discrimination or the possibility of dual arrest, in which both parties are arrested instead of a primary aggressor. A 2007 study found that dual arrest occurred in 27% of same-sex DV cases, compared to 0.8% of cases with a male offender and female victim, and 3% of cases with a female offender and male victim. In 2013, 20% of LGBTQ survivors were turned away from domestic violence shelters and 41.7% were denied access to a protection order.  These resources are particularly critical for economically insecure survivors, who may have few other options to protect themselves from abuse.

Clearly, while the LGBTQ community has made great progress, the fight for equality does not end there.  Policies should protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. There also needs to be an attitude shift towards LGBTQ survivors to recognize that they need the same protections from police, the courts and service providers. Wider Opportunities for Women offers more information about the unique relationship between violence and economic security for LGBTQ survivors as well as recommendations for how we can continue to make improvements.