No excuse for domestic violence

Published 6:00 am Thursday, September 25, 2008

It could happen anywhere, to anyone.

Domestic violence is a hidden, sinister act, but one that affects not just a person’s home life, but also his or her workplace, family relationships, and social connections. It’s a complete cycle of abuse.

“Domestic violence touches everyone, even in the workplace,” S.M.A.R.T. General Manager of Administrations Gary Sport said at the “Domestic Violence at the Workplace” workshop and luncheon held in the plant’s conference room. Employers, law enforcement, and social work counselors from all over the county gathered for the workshop to learn more about how they could spot the signs of an abused employee or co-worker and what they could do to help.

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Joan Sulzmann, a licensed social worker with the Family Sunshine Center, said that last year alone, Crenshaw County reported four aggravated assaults, 103 simple assaults, and took 30 crisis calls, and that was just for starters.

“In the United States last year alone, employers lost approximately eight billion dollars in work time due to domestic violence problems,” she said.

Sulzmann added that over 1,200 women die every year from domestic violence; however, it’s not just the women who are the victims. Men can be victims, too.

“The abuser is all about control,” she said. “He’s so attention-giving in the beginning and so giving at first, but that soon changes.”

Studies show that one out of every six female employees is a domestic violence victim, and 25 to 45 percent of all battered women are pregnant.

Sulzmann explained that the most dangerous time for a victim is right after she leaves her abuser, because the target of the abuser’s anger is almost always going to be his partner, or someone significant.

“Everyone shares in the responsibility of recognizing domestic abuse, not just law enforcement,” she said. “Any company should know that you lower your productivity when you have employees absent due to this. But the workplace may be the only place where the victim feels safe or feels as if she has a network with other people—that’s why you as employers are so important in this circle.”

Sulzmann said that one thing employers can do is develop a domestic violence policy for its employees and talk about it—out loud and often.

“What should you do if a co-worker is getting into his or her car after work, and sees a victim getting into a vehicle with her abuser? Employers need policies in place for situations such as these, not just to protect the domestic violence victim, but to help protect everyone in a situation like this.”

Other issues for employers include billions of dollars lost in work time, health care costs, turnover rate, and productivity.

And, when it comes to addressing domestic violence in the workplace, Sulzmann says it’s both a good business practice and a legal requirement. These legal issues can expand into liability for the company, OSHA laws, unions, federal and state laws, and immigrant employee concerns.

So, what can employers do in situations such as these?

Sulzmann suggests for the victim to know the company’s domestic abuse policies, talk to someone, change her work routine, alert security, and take a leave of absence if necessary. As for co-workers, they should also know the company’s policies, call security if needed, alert other co-workers, but do not confront the abuser or the victim. Co-workers and employers can document their observations of the suspected abuse pattern and encourage counseling for the victim, but it’s not an easy judgment call to make on the part of the employers.

A domestic violence crisis hotline is available for those in need of help. It is 1-800-650-6522.

The Crenshaw County Domestic Violence Task Force is also available for help. Chairman Jeannie Gibson can be reached at 335-6575 for networking and referrals for domestic violence victims.