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San Bernardino killing is the latest in a pattern of violence towards women in the workplace

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Posted at 1:10 PM, Apr 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-12 16:10:04-04

After signing in at the front office, Cedric Anderson, 53, was supposed to drop something off Monday morning for his wife, Karen Elaine Smith, 53, a teacher at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, Calif. Instead, he walked into Smith’s special needs classroom, opened fire and killed her, a student and then himself.

On March 28, Michael Hutson, 51, was waiting in his car for his wife, Kathleen Hutson, 50, to arrive for work at the Ladue, Mo., Schnucks supermarket. Police said that around 5 a.m. he shot and killed her right outside and later turned the gun on himself.   

Just since January, there have been at least six news reports of women murdered in their workplace, and two of the incidents were spillovers of domestic violence.

Homicide is the second leading cause of death for women in the workplace, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data from 2015. Sixty-one women were victims of homicide that year, accord to the BLS data, and nearly half of their assailants were a relative or domestic partner.

On the other hand, falls, slips and trips were the second leading cause for men, while homicides were fifth out of six categories of fatal workplace injuries, and only 2 percent of the men’s assailants were a relative or domestic partner. Men are much more likely to be the victims of strangers at work than escalated domestic violence.

Dr. Hope Tiesman, a research epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypothesized about the reasons women are targeted in the workplace as a result of domestic violence.

Tiesman said many women work in public locations such as schools and hospitals, and access is often easy for spouses, partners and relatives who are known by staff members. And when women consider leaving a violent relationship, she pointed out, they can move or change where they live, but it is much harder to change jobs.

Tiesman stumbled across intimate partner violence data when she was working on a paper about law enforcement officer fatalities.

“I kept reading how often police women were being killed in the workplace by intimate partners. It tweaked my interest and I decided to pull a one-year sample of workplace homicides occurring to females (all occupations).  And again, I kept reading case after case of women being killed by husbands, boyfriends, and exs.  So, we pulled all cases from 2003-2008, analyzed it, and published it,” Tiesman said in an email.

Dr. Jennifer Wies, an associate professor of anthropology at Eastern Kentucky University specializing in gender violence and the anthropology of work and labor, points out interesting trends that might explain the disparity between men and women and the threat of workplace violence.

Wies said that the volume of women joining the workforce year after year and the increasing value on jobs usually occupied by women could partially explain the number of cases.

“Women are out in the work force, and we’re operating in the world, and the violence that women experience at home follows them. It’s terrible,” Wies said.

Wies said the shooting in San Bernardino was just the most recent example of domestic violence toward women spilling into the workplace.  

“That violence seeps into everybody’s environment including the workplace. And this scene, in this scenario, the violence followed a woman to a workplace where children live and learn and other people are teaching kids, and it became violence that occurred in a workplace, but is at its root violence against women,” she said.

According to another study about 2014 homicide data by the Violence Policy Center, 72 percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner, and 94 percent of those killed were females.

“At the end of the day, if you’re seeing an increase in workplace fatalities among women, and we are seeing an increase in domestic violence fatalities nationwide this is a pressing issue. This is really important for people to take notice of,” Wies said.