I have seen domestic violence called a “couple’s problem”. That phrase really bothers me. Relationship violence is a community problem. It reaches out and touches whole communities. From the witnesses to the abuse, the family members, the neighbors, friends and even the children who first learn of death when they learn of a friend’s mothers death. It uses community resources through the police, hospitals, ambulances and prosecutors, judges and court employees as well as others that I am sure are involved but I have forgotten. Another way it involves the community is at the workplace.
Reader D.P. sent me an article from Oregon Live today. Oregon has been hit with some pretty high profile relationship violence cases this year. And they have been responding with changes in their laws, and in how they look at and handle domestic violence cases.
The article is entitled This violence doesn’t stay at home and it contains a quote that I really want to share.
Domestic violence doesn’t act like some family pet and stay at home, out of sight and mind. It follows its victims — and its perpetrators
Oregon is working within their state agencies to raise awareness about domestic violence for their employees. And they are taking action to assist affected employees to find resources for assistance and to protect them while they are on the job. Why would they as employers do this? Because relationship violence affects them through the financial cost to them and because of the human suffering.
Work is one place that most people, even people in hiding from an abusive spouse has to attend. In order to separate from an abusive spouse or partner, they have to be financially independent. Yet that is one place that the spouse or partner knows to find them. Many changes Oregon state agencies are implementing are small. Moving an employee away from windows or other measures in developing a personal safety plan. Other changes are to make sure that all have access to lists of resources where they are available to the employees, teaching supervisors how to recognize signs of domestic violence and how to assist the employee if they recognize problems. Employees suffering from DV, stalking or sexual assault are also given time off to allow them to take steps to protect their families. The measures they are taking will cost them time and money. So why would an employer do this?
An employee who suffers from relationship violence will many times have to take off work due to injuries or emotional upset (article says that lost time and productivity costs about $5 billion a year.) Victims may have an increased need for health care (the article quotes the Center for Disease Protection as saying that domestic violence costs our health care system about $4.1 billion a year.) And though the article doesn’t mention it, a victim who fears losing their job may not tell. And if the perpetrator shows up at their work and gets violent then other workers could also become either a direct or indirect (silent) victim. An indirect or so called silent victim is those persons who were witnesses to the crime and the emotional distress they suffer or who lose a friend/familymember/coworker due to domestic violence which can affect their job effectiveness. So not taking action costs an employer also.
By starting the changes in the state agencies, Oregon is hoping that private employers will also take steps voluntarily to make their own changes to protect their employees.
I applaud what Oregon is doing and hope that other states and the private employers will follow suit. The first step is in recognizing the fact that the problem can affect any workplace, the second step is to take action. Oregon is doing both.