Image via COURIER
Image via COURIER

For one North Carolinian, it took three separate hearings over the span of a month and a half to get the legal protection they needed to feel safe again after being attacked. 

Thirty-five percent of women in North Carolina have experienced intimate partner or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to a report commissioned by the North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement. 

That’s why in October, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive directive to allow eligible state employees to use their vacation time or sick days to deal with issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. 

“Domestic violence survivors should have the flexibility they need to recover and protect the safety of their families,” said Gov. Cooper said in a statement. “Today’s Executive Directive is an important signal to state employees affected by domestic violence that we are here to support them as they rebuild their lives.”

According to the directive issued on Oct. 23, employees who work at a state agency can use their earned time off to access advocacy services; secure legal help after surviving an incident; relocate for safety concerns; and take any other actions to “protect or restore their physical, mental, emotional, and economic well-being or the well-being of an immediate family member who is recovering from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”

But Sherry Honeycutt Everett, legal and policy director of North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said all North Carolinians should have these assurances. The governor’s executive action, she said in an interview with Courier, raises awareness about this need and could serve as a blueprint for employers throughout the state. 

“I believe it wouldn’t be that difficult for private employers who are supervising employees who may be victims of abuse to allow them to use leave that they’ve already earned,” Everett said. It doesn’t come at overwhelming costs for businesses, she added, because these “safe days” are already existing earned leave. 

When dealing with issues related to intimate partner violence, Everett said many people tend to believe resolution involves a single court date. In actuality, that single court date may really be the culmination of various steps, including meeting with advocates just to understand the issue, receiving counseling, and meeting with different agencies to secure assistance to actually get out of an abusive situation. “It really is all-consuming for a lot of survivors who are trying to take steps to leave,” she said.

That was the case for Cindy, a North Carolinian who was attacked in their home this spring by the person they were dating. Cindy—who uses they/them pronouns and asked that their name be changed to protect their privacy—told Courier that it was the first time this person had ever exhibited violent behavior. Hours later, Cindy and a friend went to their local court to file for a restraining order. It took three separate hearings over the span of a month and a half to get the legal protection Cindy needed to feel safe again. 

“I would lose days around each thing that I did, from taking documents to clerks and the sheriff’s liaison [to meeting with] a domestic violence advocate and a lawyer.”

During that period, Cindy was overwhelmed with the amount of time and energy it took to ensure their assailant was served with the paperwork to obtain the year-long domestic violence protective order. At the same time, Cindy was also dealing with the trauma of being assaulted.

“You have to document everything that happened repeatedly,” Cindy said wearily. “I would lose days around each thing that I did, from taking documents to clerks and the sheriff’s liaison [to meeting with] a domestic violence advocate and a lawyer.” In one instance, Cindy said they waited an hour just to talk to someone in the domestic violence unit of the neighboring county’s sheriff’s department to ensure the protective order paperwork was filed with the right person because it wasn’t done right the first time. 

Fortunately, Cindy’s employer was understanding about the time they had to take off from work to handle the aftermath of their assault. “That is not [the case for] most people,” they said.

Earlier this year, a bill was filed in the N.C. General Assembly that included a provision to allow North Carolinians to use their sick days to deal with the physical, mental, or legal impacts of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The legislation stalled in committee.

“There is not a commitment from the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly to support families in my opinion,” the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Ashton Clemmons, told Women AdvaNCe.

Currently, 11 states—including Arizona, California, and Maryland—have laws ensuring employees have the right to use earned paid time off as safe days related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.