Professional sports organizations have a particular social responsibility to act as role models and good citizens for the legions of young fans who follow them faithfully. Zero tolerance policies can allow leaders to wash their hands of what they see as the ‘problem’ individual, without appreciating or exploring how problematic individual behaviour is rooted in attitudes and beliefs that also exist in our workplaces, our teams and our leagues. When the ‘problem’ person is traded or fired, the organization hasn’t done anything to address abusive behaviour in intimate relationships because this is not a problem that can just be traded away. The “one bad apple” approach to domestic violence obscures the social context in which these behaviours thrive.
Sport plays an important role in society and is often highlighted for the positive impact it can have within communities. For example, we enroll our children in sport to encourage them to be healthy and active, but also to teach them life lessons, such as the importance of teamwork, perseverance, a strong work ethic, commitment, integrity, trust, accountability, etc. Many believe sport is a vehicle for achieving great social change. Unfortunately, negative stories also emerge from sport. Too often we hear of corruption, drug doping, and domestic abuse from the athletes who should be the ones teaching these important life lessons. Former baseball pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna, is a recent case (of many) where a celebrity athlete has been charged with domestic assault of his girlfriend.
Early days, no one including Indigenous people believed there was a crisis happening within the borders of our country called Canada within your very own community. The first memorial march was held over 25 years ago in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside also known at DTES. Indigenous women have continued to bring people together to remember lost loved ones and have mobilized to stop the violence or to slow it down. However, for a long time, the general population ignored their voices and the yearly marches. It wasn’t until 2004 that mass attention was brought to the issue when Amnesty International partnered with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to produce the report, Stolen Sisters.
The United Nations General Assembly designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on some members of our older generations. Abuse of older adults is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community.
The astounding speed and force with which the #MeToo movement has entered popular discourse and consciousness can make it seem as if it was a spontaneous uprising. But the foundational work that exposed workplace sexual harassment and held space for the much needed change we are beginning to see has been going on for a long time. In 1979 Catherine MacKinnon wrote Sexual Harassment of Working Women in the U.S. and Constance Backhouse and Leah Cohen wrote The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of Working Women in Canada. These first books about workplace sexual harassment were ground-breaking because they gave us language to describe distressing behaviours that had been happening in the workplace but which all too often were considered “part of the job.” Not having language to talk about a problem is a very effective strategy to make it invisible. The gift of language started us on a journey to the #MeToo movement.
“That is personal, it’s none of your business.” “What if I’m wrong?” These are familiar statements we hear in the workplace, especially when staff do not have the knowledge and tools to recognize and respond to domestic violence in the workplace. Tragedies like those of Theresa Vince and Lori Dupont have shown us that domestic violence is occurring in workplaces. The workplace is not immune to domestic violence; this is not a private issue. It is often difficult to overcome the hesitation to act and the misconception that domestic violence is a private issue; however, it is imperative that when warning signs or risk factors are identified, we act.
National Day of Mourning, April 28th, commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards and incidents. Mourn for the dead. Fight for Living! Even if it takes twenty years, change is possible.
Domestic violence (DV) has significant impacts on workers and workplaces. In a recent pan-Canadian survey, we documented, for the first time, rates and impacts of DV on victims and their co-workers, including how health and life quality are affected, and supports offered by the workplace (see Further Readings). We were very grateful to have 37 people identifying as a gender minority (GM) respond to the survey – a small group compared to the overall sample of about 8500 people, but a large group when we consider how little we know about the experiences of gender minorities in this context.
We’ve come a long way with equality in the past few decades, both gender and racial equality. Yet, discrimination still exists on many levels for many different groups. In North America, there is a rising trend of black women being killed by their intimate partners, and many times, these murders are under-reported. In Canada in particular, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days on average. Violence experienced by Indigenous women in Canada is especially concerning, with 15% of Indigenous women having reported being abused by a current or former spouse. This number is staggering compared to the overall percentage of Canadian women who report violence at the hand of a partner - 6%. Violence against women is an ongoing problem, but it’s compounded for both indigenous and black women. This is why addressing this violence and racism at every level is vital to helping better the province for everyone.
The Ontario Government passed Occupational Health and Safety legislation in 2010 to explicitly include domestic violence as a form of workplace violence. Legislating employers to protect workers from domestic violence at work is a progressive act of leadership on a complex social issue. As such, Ontario is the first jurisdiction in the world to take this step. It is a good news story for those working to protect jobs and increase safety for victims. That said; challenges inevitably follow complexity. Unintended and unanticipated consequences emerge with any system change that requires ongoing willingness on the part of leadership to learn and adapt – and to remain committed to the learning process when things go wrong. This past month a story unfolded in the U.S. sports world to underscore the complexity in addressing domestic violence in the workplace and the need for clear and unwavering leadership.