Supporting Workplaces in Providing an Effective Response to Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking

Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Office on Violence Against Women Blog. Read the original post here.

It is with great pride that I share the announcement of the new DOJ policy on addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the workplace.  Given the seriousness of these crimes and their impact on employees, we believe this is an important step toward creating a workplace that is safe for all staff.  Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the release of the policy at OVW’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month event earlier today.  DOJ is the first major federal agency to submit a final workplace policy in response to the Presidential memorandum. 

It is our sincere hope that this new policy will be used by other federal agencies, as well as private sector workplaces, as a model for developing a comprehensive workplace response that values the safety needs of survivors. 

One-third of women killed in U.S. workplaces were killed by a current or former intimate partner according to one multi-year study.  Another study found that nearly one in four large private industry establishments reported at least one incidence of domestic violence, including threats and assaults. 

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking does not stop when a survivor arrives at work.  The violence is devastating for victims and takes a toll on the entire workplace as victims are often traumatized, harassed and terrified by abusers while at work.  In fact, domestic violence victims lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work each year—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs as a result of the violence they experience.  Victims are often forced to take time off work to go to court to obtain a restraining order or to seek medical and mental health care.  Many are forced to leave their jobs altogether.  Perpetrators also lose productivity by stalking, calling, and badgering victims – often on company time and using company resources like phones, the internet, and company cars.  The CDC estimates that intimate partner violence, which includes rape, physical assault, and stalking, costs $1.8 billion in lost workplace productivity each year. 

The Obama Administration is committed to addressing the issue of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the workplace.  In April of 2012, President Obama issued a memorandum requiring each federal agency to develop and implement a policy to prevent domestic violence and address the effects of domestic violence on its workforce.  The federal government is the country’s largest employer, and with President Obama’s leadership, will serve as a model for creating workplaces that reduce the harmful impact of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. 

The new DOJ policy and its provisions are grounded in victim safety and perpetrator accountability, and seek to further a healthy, productive workplace.  For example, the policy helps victims keep their jobs through clearly described flexible leave options, enabling them to attend a protection order hearing or visit a mental health professional.  The policy also includes provisions that hold offenders accountable with disciplinary actions and security procedures, and addresses complex situations, such as a perpetrator and victim who work in the same building – or even the same office.  Importantly, the policy calls for training and education so all employees can play a part in promoting workplace safety. 

To help employers implement similar policies, OVW has funded the Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource Center (Resource Center) and Futures without Violence in their efforts to educate, train, and support organizations and business looking for strategies to address domestic violence in the workplace. 

Today, I am also pleased to announce the release of a new and valuable toolkit that will support workplaces in providing an effective response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  The Resource Center’s toolkit provides useful information for co-workers, employees, and supervisors.  For example, the toolkit includes a “Safety Card for Employees,” a protection order guide for employees, a training video for supervisors, and a quiz to help start a conversation about the impact of violence on the workplace.  The toolkit even has a poster that employers can put up to inform their workplace about domestic and sexual violence and stalking, and how every employee can address it. 

We encourage employers and employees alike to utilize the toolkit – found at www.workplacesrespond.org – and take the next step in addressing domestic violence and promoting safety in the workplace. 

OVW is launching other resources to help survivors find the economic support and security they need.  Economic insecurity, often a result of abuse, undermines survivors’ ability to seek safety and justice leaving them vulnerable to future violence. The criminal and civil justice systems have many ways to help survivors, but prosecutors and attorneys don’t always know how to best utilize those opportunities. 

We are excited to share with the OVW community Wider Opportunities for Women’s Prosecutor’s Guide to Safety and Economic Security for Victims of Violence Against Women (Prosecutor’s Guide), which outlines how prosecutors can protect and support survivors’ economic security.  The Prosecutor’s Guide contains practical tools like checklists for each stage of the case and a Pocket Guide

For example, prosecutors can:

  • Address economic needs in safety planning so that survivors are better protected and insulated from witness intimidation.
  • Charge offenders for the economic crimes they commit, in addition to physical abuse, in order to achieve to broader economic justice for survivors and address the full extent of their victimization.
  • Request all available restitution and economic relief in protection orders to hold offenders fully accountable and restore survivors financially. 

Adopting these practices and strategies will help prosecutors hold offenders fully accountable and better support survivors’ safety and economic security.  

Another example of excellent work in this area is the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice (CSAJ).  The CSAJ launched the Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative (CRDVSI).  The initiative, funded by OVW, enhances economic justice for survivors by building the capacity of and developing collaborative partnerships between domestic violence and consumer law attorneys and advocates.  After conducting an Economic Justice Needs Assessment, CSAJ is collaborating with organizations across the country to devise and implement Building Partnerships for Economic Justice Pilot Projects.  These pilot sites, focused upon collaborative approaches to enhance economic advocacy for survivors, are receiving specialized web-based trainings, intensive individualized technical assistance, and on-site training.  This spring, CSAJ will publish a Building Partnerships Manual, which will offer best practices to communities that are interested in engaging in collaborative economic justice work. 

To access CSAJ’s wealth of resources, including conference training materials, webinar materials and recordings, best practices, and economic advocacy tools, visit CSAJ’s resource library at: www.csaj.org  

Domestic violence touches all of our lives, whether through a friend, loved one, co-worker, or through personal experience.  With the new DOJ workplace policy and the resources provided through Workplaces Respond, Wider Opportunities for Women, and CSAJ, we are promoting a dignified response to survivors, guidance for employers, and strategies to keep victims out of poverty.  It is truly an honor to work for an agency that recognizes the importance of economic security for victims and has taken a leadership role in ensuring that our workplace is safe and free from the devastating impact of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Bea Hanson is the Acting Director of the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women

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