Mental Health Advocates Ask Why 70% Of Workplaces Don't Have This Crucial Safety Policy

Original Article: Denise Brodey, Forbes | April 2, 2019

Let's face it—most employers don't want to think about or even imagine that someone on their staff is being abused, has been assaulted or is being stalked. But right now someone on your staff probably is, even if you can’t even imagine that's possible. Research shows that 44% of women and 23% of men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime either at work or outside of the workplace. From 2017 to 2018, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen a 40% increase in the number of people reaching out for support, according to their website. Yet 70% of employers do not have a program to respond.

Leading In Times Of Change

Part of being a visionary leader in times of conflict and change is addressing topics on the minds of your workers that are in the news. This week, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for renewal on the Hill. It may also be on the minds of some of your staff.  The news is an opportunity and a reality check: leaders face a huge gap in knowledge about how to help sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking survivors—both at and outside of work.

The good news is that employer resources are growing, according to Workplaces Respond, a national resource for both employers and employees. Experts now recognize that violence that takes place outside of work influences what happens at work, whether that be for safety, emotional wellness or productivity reasons, research shows. It is no longer a personal issue. 

If employees are your greatest asset and employee well-being is of the highest priority, it’s time to ask your employees how you can help them with this epidemic of violence and assault. One example of this taking place on the local level is WorkStrong, women helping women. Again, more than 70% of workplaces in the U.S. have no formal workplace violence program or policy and only 4% had trained their workforce on domestic violence. The smaller the organization, the less likely there was to be a formal policy regarding domestic violence, research shows. State laws may influence whether an employer offers unpaid leave for domestic violence victims.

The Time’s Up movement impressed upon the corporate world that the conversation around sexual harassment at work needed to change. There also needs to be a conversation around domestic violence and assault outside of the workplace. Employer awareness is slowly growing. Jane Randel, the author of the No More Blog, writes:…"male dominance has informed our present-day definition of manhood, which requires men to be dominant in every aspect of life—be it professional, personal, or social. This [power dynamic] is at the root of domestic and sexual violence." Randel asks: What are you doing to change the culture?

Putting Employee’s Needs First

There’s no timeline for being helpful. But there are guidelines for how to be effective at whatever your leadership chooses to do. The best possible outcomes have collaboration at their core. In the case of helping women who experience domestic violence or sexual assault, the best systems strive to bring together police, lawyers, prosecutors, counselors and shelters—basically everyone a woman would meet along the path to recovery. Ideally, they work in lockstep, empowering people to come forward and use every service available without stigma or fear. Similarly, the decisions you make at work to support and protect your staff should also be coordinated and targeted to survivors most pressing needs.

Creating Resources That Are Inclusive

Here are resources that go beyond offering a hotline or counseling referral. Where noted in the materials, these resources are not under copyright so they can be freely distributed. Many of them are resources for people with disabilities that will work for everyone and are inclusive. If you plan a gathering or forum on sexual violence, start with an explanation of your company’s current policy or how you are creating one and ask for input from experts and staff.

  • Financial abuse is the number one area that triggers a pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another, according to In Charge, a debt relief and financial help service for domestic violence survivors.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline for advice is open 24/7, no fee, no judgment. Hotline advocates are there to help not only the person in crisis but the people around them seeking advice and safety.
  • Conversations About Safety was developed by the Violence Against Women with Disabilities and Deaf Women Project of Wisconsin. The goal is to guide people with disabilities, advocates and family members through key conversations on creating more safety for themselves, according to their website.
  • This Sexual Violence education guide offers a step-by-step training curriculum for rape crisis centers. For the general population or an HR department, it could provide helpful information on how to educate women (with or without disabilities) about sexual violence, their rights, healthy sexuality and how to get help. It was created in Illinois by a disability rights group.
  • In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Developmental services offer a list of sex education and sexual abuse prevention resources. This resource is an inclusive and comprehensive example of the type of information you can distribute to assist people disabilities and their peers know more about healthy relationships, disability, and sexuality.

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline for advice is open 24/7, no fee, no judgment. Hotline advocates are there to help not only the person in crisis but the people around them seeking advice and safety. Call and get help today at 1-800-799-7233.

Denise Brodey is a writer on mental health and disability. She is the author of The Elephant in the Playroom. On Twitter @dbrodey.