Many victims of domestic violence attempt to escape their abusers by residing at unknown locations. Consequently, the victims’ workplace often becomes the one reliable place abusers can find them. Here are some ways employers can better protect their employees from domestic violence.
I met with Sarah first thing on a Monday morning. We both had the unspoken recognition she shouldn’t have been sitting across the table from me. She had almost been murdered two days prior. Her boyfriend (and coworker) strangled her at her apartment during an argument.
Sarah recounted her boyfriend’s controlling behavior during their relationship, and his physical abuse that evening when he strangled her. During the process of strangling her, she was able to fight back, escape, and call 911. He was subsequently arrested.
Sarah was wearing a turtleneck during our meeting, and she pulled down her sweater from her neck to show me the extensive bruising. The severity of the bruising was startling even to me. (My coworker, a former homicide detective, advised he’d only seen bruising that extensive on a dead body.)
Sarah’s abuser was convicted of felony domestic violence with a 10-year stay away order (though he received no jail time due to no prior criminal history). Sarah’s abuser left the workplace due to the arrest. Sarah’s employer asked her to stay away from the office and provided her with paid leave while the court case was ongoing. She opted to stay in a hotel for months to protect her location and subsequently relocated to a new residence. Sarah suffered from PTSD from the attack, though after counseling, she has returned to work and is thriving.
While each story of domestic violence is unique, domestic violence is prevalent in our society – more so than most people realize. I recognized that Sarah was lucky to be alive given the strangulation in the case. Strangulation itself is an important pre-incident indicator in domestic violence cases, and many Active Shooters have had a history of domestic violence strangulation.
Statistics Regarding Domestic Violence
In assessing cases, I don’t put much credence into statistics because I consider whether the case I’m working on is the 1 out of 100 case, the outlier. That said, statistics can be helpful for understanding the prevalence or patterns of violence. When studying domestic violence, one in four women, and one in ten men, will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. For the LGBTQ community, the statistic is one in four.
Victims of domestic violence could be at risk for an attack at the workplace, and hence place coworkers at risk. Many victims will stay at a location unknown to the abuser (a friend’s home, a family member’s home, a hotel, a domestic violence shelter, etc.), and accordingly, the one place the abuser can reliably locate the victim is the workplace. It’s a sobering statistic to know that women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner at work than by a coworker.
The FBI Study on Active Shooters (2000 – 2013) reported that there were 16 incidents of Active Shooter events related to domestic violence, and besides the victim (who might have been killed or wounded), an additional 42 people were killed and 28 people were wounded. Therefore, when managing domestic violence cases that intersect with the workplace, organizations must consider the risk to other employees.
What Can An Organization Do Regarding Domestic Violence?
Many organizations have workplace violence prevention programs and policies, though are lacking an approach to lessening the impact of domestic violence on the workplace.
For organizations, we suggest the following:
Ensure there is training for managers and the Threat Assessment Team on domestic violence warning signs, and how to manage an employee who might be experiencing domestic violence. Two key areas for employees to be trained on (and are often overlooked) are understanding that strangulation is a serious indicator in cases, and that the time after a victim obtains a Restraining Order or leaves the abuser (when the victim is exercising power and “rejecting” the abuser) is a time of heightened risk.
In Sarah’s case, strangulation was a key indicator about the seriousness of her situation. Victims of prior non-fatal strangulation are 800% more likely of later becoming a homicide victim by the abuser. (Also, victims of strangulation might die days or weeks later due to internal injuries, and only 50% of strangulation victims had visible injuries – therefore it’s important for assessors to learn if strangulation might have occurred in the relationship because there will not always be physical symptoms.) The Strangulation Training Institute provides an insightful no-cost video on strangulation which is valuable for those who might handle domestic violence cases: https://www.strangulationtraininginstitute.com/.
In terms of Restraining Orders, one out of five homicide victims with Restraining Orders are murdered within two days of obtaining the order, and one-third of homicide victims with Restraining Orders are murdered within the first month. Also, a woman is 70 times more likely to be murdered in the few weeks after leaving her abuser than at any other time in the relationship. Therefore, we often recommend that victims be unavailable to their abuser during these times of heightened risk (which could mean avoiding the workplace). If the victim is at the workplace, it is important to enhance his or her security (which might involve escorts to the victim’s vehicle, parking the victim’s vehicle in a different location, relocating the victim to another building which might have stronger security measures, and so forth).
Ensure there are policies related to domestic violence. In particular, we recommend requiring, or at least encouraging, all employees who have civil Restraining Orders or criminal protective orders to provide a copy to Security. Oftentimes, this process is how organizations learn about domestic violence cases. Also, we recommend ensuring compliance with any mandated DV-related policies in the organization’s jurisdiction.
Understand that if the organization is aware the employee is a victim of domestic violence, and fails to protect the victim or coworkers during an attack, the organization might be held liable. (An example is a 1993 case in Houston involving Francesia La Rose who advised Security that her boyfriend was pursuing her and provided Security with a photograph of him. The abuser then called her supervisor saying if she was not fired, he would kill her. The day after the abuser left the voicemail, he visited the office, walked past Security, and killed Francesia. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and obtained a settlement as a result.)
Establish who the organization is assessing the situation for
Is the organization assessing the case for the victim or for the organization at large? Most likely, the organization will be considering the safety of all employees, which might guide how the assessor approaches the situation.
Baseline for Cases
Determine if the organization will have a baseline for handling employees who have domestic violence cases and how involved does the organization wish to become involved? Does the organization want to receive a full case history (i.e., knowing about details surrounding rape or assault) – or is a more limited approach better (i.e., asking for a photograph, vehicle information, and significant information about the case?). Does the organization’s duty extend to the victim’s residence? And her dependents?
There is no “wrong way” or “right away” to handle domestic violence cases that intersect with the workplace, though having a roadmap to how the assessor will approach all cases can be helpful. Some organizations offer to pay for enhanced security at employees’ residences (particularly for those that might work out of their residences) and might even offer relocation to domestic violence victims to other cities and states (even if the victim will no longer be an employee). Other organizations find it best to limit their management to the workplace only.
We recommend providing domestic violence victims with resources such as information about a local domestic violence shelter or Family Justice Center if available (the latter is a “one stop shop” for domestic violence victims and might include prosecutors, law enforcement, mental health counselors, and others working in conjunction to provide services to the victim; more information can be found here: familyjusticecenter.org). Another option to consider is having a representative from a shelter or Family Justice Center provide training to employees on domestic violence to open up communication and awareness, such as during domestic violence awareness month (which is October). Another great resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.theholtine.org). It might also be wise to offer victims with a flexible schedule or time off, particularly if they are dealing with court hearings or are relocating.
For assessing the situation, our firm’s Domestic Violence MOSAIC system (www.mosaicmethod.com) is available to the public at no cost. MOSAIC is a computer-assisted program for assessing situations, and the feedback from domestic violence victims is often that the system allowed them to recognize the seriousness of their situation. MOSAIC can also be helpful for assessors, particularly when obtaining a full case history and assessing the case between the victim and the abuser.
Also, in Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, he discusses domestic violence in Chapter 10, Intimate Enemies, which might bring benefit.
Many domestic violence victims also find value in attending self-defense courses, such as IMPACT Personal Safety (https://impactpersonalsafety.com/about-impact/history/). Some organizations offer self-defense classes to all employees at the workplace.
Office Safety Recommendations vs. Case Management
We caution organizations not to recommend that a victim pursue – or not pursue – interventions (such as criminal charges, Restraining Orders, etc.). The organization could be held liable if their direction worsens the case. Therefore, we encourage organizations to educate victims on the options available to them and explain how certain actions could result in an escalation or a time of heightened risk. Better yet, refer victims to domestic violence counselors, who are well-trained on the many factors involved in these situations and can discuss the options and resources available at length. It is important to recognize that some domestic victims will return to the relationship and/or advise the abuser of the organization’s involvement, so be aware that any information the organization share might be given to the abuser.
By having proactive programs and policies regarding domestic violence, organizations are more likely to learn about cases and hence be in a better position to protect all employees from potential violence by a domestic abuser.
Gabrielle Thompson, PI, CPP, is Vice President of Threat Assessment Strategies at Gavin de Becker & Associates, L.P. She is a leading behavioral scientist with a specialty in threat assessment. For the last 20 years, she has personally assessed and managed thousands of cases including public figure pursuit, workplace violence, and domestic violence for at-risk individuals and organizations. She is Senior Instructor at GDBA’s Advanced Threat Assessment Academy (to learn more about the Academy, visit – training.gavindebecker.com.