Alison Gregory researches domestic violence at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, Bristol University, UK
Recently domestic violence hit the headlines, again, with Ray Rice’s assault of his fiancée attracting substantial media attention. And yet again we see that society at large has no idea how to respond appropriately.
The insultingly weak initial two-game suspension that Rice received (when other players had had longer suspensions for illegal tattoos and eating protein bars that were not on the approved list) was reminiscent of the type of down-playing that domestic violence received in the 1950s. Thankfully following wide-spread criticism, the NFL revised their ideas and issued an indefinite suspension. Rice’s wife , Janay, is one of many current or former partners to an NFL player who has experienced domestic abuse, and given the high stats globally for females ever having experienced domestic violence, her situation is sadly far from unusual - a World Health Organisation review found that 30% of women around the world are affected by domestic or sexual violence by a partner. In Canada specifically, one in four women has experienced domestic violence during her lifetime.
Of course, the publicity surrounding this case does make it different from the situation most survivors face, and certainly the degree to which Rice’s employers and governing body have been aware of the situation is also less than usual. This raises questions about the role and obligations employers need to adopt if we are to tackle domestic violence using a more ecological model.
This needn’t be solely about taking punitive actions or sanctions against perpetrators (though this does send out strong messages about how the organisation or company views domestic violence), but can also be about supporting employees who are survivors and raising the general level of awareness of all staff regarding the issue. There are some noteworthy examples in North America where companies such as Liz Claiborne and Kodak have taken strong stances around domestic violence. Not only do they run campaigns highlighting the problem, and have plans for responding to employees who experience abuse, but they also train their employees about abuse. Considering domestic violence costs the Canadian economy $7.4 billion annually - with $77.9 million of that total relating specifically to losses to employers - support provision in this context is not only invaluable, but would in all likelihood be cost effective.
As individuals, and as employers and sanctioning bodies, we need to stop seeing domestic violence as someone else’s problem and take responsibility for what Klein refers to as the ‘humdrum cultural change’ in which everyone does things a little differently every day (Responding to Intimate Violence Against Women: The Role of Informal Networks). I’m not so naive as to think that supporting a survivor or challenging a perpetrator is a straight forward thing to do and without cost; the research participants I’ve interviewed, all of whom have informally supported a survivor, talk about tolls that can be multifaceted, potentially onerous, and at times even dangerous.
However, by skilling up (both ourselves and others) so that we recognise domestic abuse when we see it and understand what is happening, in order to help us make appropriate interventions, the knock-on effect will be that numerous survivors are better supported by those around them which, in practice, would save lives. When organisations and governing bodies take a public stand against domestic violence, they send a very powerful message encouraging their consumers, service-users and employees to imitate the values that are modeled.