Preventing domestic violence from occurring in the workplace continues to be one of the most challenging tasks confronting an organization's workplace violence prevention team. Conducting a comprehensive and effective initial investigation is the first critical step in managing domestic violence incidents to a successful and nonlethal conclusion.
In March 2004, the article entitled "Domestic Violence in the Workplace: A Continuing Danger" appeared in this space. This article stated that domestic violence was a major problem in the United States, particularly for women. It was noted that:
- One out of every three American women reported being the victim of physical abuse by an intimate partner
- Approximately 1,000 women were being murdered every year as a result of domestic violence
- The murderers were usually their husband, former husband, boyfriend, or former boyfriend
- Over 30 women were killed at work each year in domestic violence incidents
- Almost 1 million women per year were the victims of nonlethal domestic violence, including rapes and physical assaults
Since March 2004, not much has changed with regard to the domestic violence experiences of women in the United States. Because of this, domestic violence continues to present challenges to businesses and organizations as they attempt to maintain a safe work environment. Workplace violence prevention team members are regularly confronted with incidents of domestic violence occurring in their workplaces.
One of the most important and critical steps of managing domestic violence incidents in the workplace is conducting a comprehensive and effective initial investigation as soon as possible after the team becomes aware of a potential or actual domestic violence incident taking place at work. The present article outlines the major categories of investigation that are critical to understanding and managing domestic violence in the workplace. These categories are presented below, along with the types of information needed and questions that should be asked during the investigation process.
Present Domestic Violence Situation
The team should investigate and document the answers to the following questions.
- Describe the most recent domestic violence incident. When and where did it occur? Who was present? What type of abuse did it involve: verbal, physical, sexual? Were any threats made by the perpetrator or the victim?
- Are there any known reasons or stressors that may have contributed to or triggered the present domestic violence incident?
- Describe in chronological order all past incidents of domestic violence.
- With regard to past domestic violence incidents, were the police notified, were police reports filed, were any restraining orders obtained?
- Are there any known reasons or stressors that may have contributed to or triggered the past domestic violence incidents?
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever violated any restraining order? If so, what was involved in the violation, and what were the legal consequences?
- Has the alleged perpetrator engaged in any stalking behavior? If yes, what are the details of each incident?
- Has the alleged perpetrator engaged in domestic violence behavior in past relationships? If yes, please provide details.
Family Living Situation
Again, these questions need to be asked and answered.
- What is the marital status of the victim and alleged perpetrator?
- When did the victim and alleged perpetrator begin living together?
- Have there been any separations?
- Are the victim and perpetrator presently living together?
- Does the victim plan on changing residences. If yes, when?
- If the victim changes residences, will the alleged perpetrator have knowledge of the new location?
- Are there children involved?
- What are the ages and gender of the children?
- With whom are the children living?
- Are there custody issues present?
Perpetrator's Access to the Workplace
These questions hone in on the issues related directly to the workplace itself.
- Does the alleged perpetrator know where the victim works?
- Does the alleged perpetrator know the victim's commute schedule?
- Does the alleged perpetrator know the victim's work schedule?
- Has the alleged perpetrator been to the victim's workplace? If so, when and for what reason(s)?
- Has the alleged perpetrator threatened to come to or near the workplace?
- Could the alleged perpetrator gain access to the workplace? If yes, how would they gain access?
- Are there any coworkers that might be at risk?
- Why would a coworker or coworkers be at risk?
These questions help assess the situation through legal documentation.
- Have the police been contacted?
- Has a police report been filed?
- What is the police report case number?
- Who is the detective in charge of the case, and what is his/her contact information?
- Has a restraining order been obtained?
- Is a copy of the restraining order available for the company/organization?
- Has the restraining order been served to the alleged perpetrator?
- Are there plans to obtain a restraining order? If so, when?
- Has an attorney been retained? If not, are there plans to do so, and when?
- Are there plans to obtain a separation/divorce? If so, when?
- Have separation/divorce papers been filed? If so, when and where?
- Has the alleged perpetrator been served with the divorce/separation papers? If so, when and where?
Perpetrator's History of Violence
Looking to the past helps the team to assess the future risk.
- Has the alleged perpetrator been involved in past incidents of violence? If yes, describe the details of each incident.
- Has the alleged perpetrator threatened to harm others? If yes, what are the details of each incident?
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever engaged in self-inflicted injury behavior or attempted suicide?
- Does the alleged perpetrator own or have access to guns or other types of weapons? If yes, does the alleged perpetrator know how to use the weapons, and have they ever used them?
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever been involved with gangs or been a gang member?
- Does the alleged perpetrator have any relatives or friends who are gang members?
- Has there been any form of violence or criminal history in the alleged perpetrator's family?
Perpetrator's Criminal History
A criminal history is obviously a prime indicator of trouble. If not already determined, the team needs to ask and verify the following questions.
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever been arrested? If yes, describe the details of each arrest.
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony? If yes, describe the details of each conviction.
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever been in jail or prison? If yes, describe the details of each incarceration.
Substance Abuse Issues
Like criminal history, substance abuse is a major red flag.
- Has the alleged perpetrator used drugs in the past? If yes, what are the details of this drug usage?
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever been a drug dealer? If yes, what are the details of the drug involvement?
- Is the alleged perpetrator presently using illicit drugs or abusing prescription medications? If yes, which drugs and what is the extent of the abuse?
- Does the alleged perpetrator have an alcohol abuse problem? If yes, what are the details of the abuse?
- Has the alleged perpetrator ever been treated for alcohol or drug abuse? If yes, what are the details? How successful was the treatment?
- Does the alleged perpetrator's level of violence increase with drug or alcohol use? If, yes how is the violence exhibited?
Resources and Sources of Support
In addition to asking questions about the violence and the perpetrator, it is incumbent on the team to assess any assistance available to the victim or potential victim.
- Is the victim aware of resources such as the employee assistance program and domestic violence prevention organizations?
- Has the victim attempted to contact the employee assistance program, a mental health professional, and/or a domestic violence prevention organization?
- Is the victim presently working with an employee assistance counselor, mental health professional, or domestic violence counselor?
- Does the victim have other sources of support such as parents, relatives, friends, church members?
This list of questions is quite extensive and involves a considerable amount of patience and care as the information is being obtained. It is also important to be sensitive the victim's circumstances and present emotional state. The individual(s) tasked with obtaining the above information should conduct themselves in a professional manner, while at the same time displaying an appropriate amount of empathy for the victim and the victim's circumstances.
Once information has been obtained, the more difficult part of the workplace violence prevention team's work begins. The team will need to study and analyze the data, make decisions regarding the extent to which the employee and the workplace is at risk, and develop a list of response options, with the risks and rewards associated with each option. See the article "The Violence Vulnerability Assessment: Sometimes Ignored … Always Essential!" for a discussion of these aspects of the workplace violence prevention team's work, as well as the steps a team takes to manage domestic violence incidents to a safe and nonlethal conclusion.
Dr. Madero has a "Domestic Violence Interview and Data Collection Protocol" available to interested parties. This protocol may be obtained by contacting Dr. Madero at 1-800-975-7522.
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