Employers — White House included — must not tolerate domestic violence

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Rob Porter’s resignation as White House staff secretary amid domestic violence allegations from two ex-wives should provide us all moment to pause.

Porter has been accused of physically and emotionally abusing his former spouses and a previous girlfriend. Of great concern is the reaction of his employer, The White House.

White House support for Porter and questions around the integrity of the domestic violence claims has sent a chilling message to victims across our country. Despite words to the effect that “domestic violence should be taken seriously,” statements issuing from the President and his staff fall incredibly short of acknowledging the gravity of this problem.

The workplace has an important role in domestic violence response that we need to recognize and encourage now.

With nearly three in four survivors of domestic violence citing economic security as their reason for staying in the abusive relationship, the opportunity to engage more employers in the conversation is essential and uncomplicated.

Work is a significant part of many people’s lives. When you are a victim of domestic violence, work may be the only place where you feel safe. For victims, work is often their anchor; giving them emotional support and financial security. For employers, with domestic violence costs in our nation reaching $8.3 billion in health and lost productivity, it’s an opportunity to create a culture that benefits workers and the workplace.

Collaboration between workplace and non-workplace stakeholders such as employers, unions, employer associations and domestic violence advocates are ideal models which offer viable options for victims. Employers are strategically positioned to train, educate and resource their employees with information on domestic violence and where to get help.

We are missing a huge opportunity if employers don’t acknowledge this challenge and establish clear workplace policy and culture to support their employees who experience violence, through multi-stakeholder programs. Domestic violence doesn’t stay home anymore; our response needs to be as expansive as the behavior.

Workplace leaders have another significant role to play in reacting to domestic violence: a no tolerance role.

Domestic violence is an abhorrent crime. Praise for an alleged abuser, as doled out by the President and his team, offers a repugnant message to society. Saying that someone is a “good man,” in the face of credible facts which speak otherwise, discourages victims from seeking help because they fear they will not be believed.

Offenders are often very convincing. They’re skilled at presenting themselves as sincere, competent, even charming individuals in the workplace, despite their monstrous behavior at home. Support for them, in any form, is unnerving, especially for victims, and should not be tolerated.

While the highest office in the land has fumbled this issue, there is still hope. Domestic violence is no insignificant matter. It’s real and insidious and can only be stopped if everyone – including employers – become part of the solution.

Karen Jarmoc is Chief Executive Officer of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Nancy Tyler is an attorney with the firm of O’Brien, Tanski & Young.

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