SPOKANE, Wash. — A partnership of Spokane community institutions has been awarded a $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop programs to address domestic violence in the workplace. Washington State University Spokane researchers will serve as the project leaders in collaboration with the Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium, Associated Industries of Inland Northwest, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and Spokane Police Department.

The award is for three years. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s staff provided assistance and support for the application.

The Spokane Workplace Domestic Violence Initiative will develop a set of services for local businesses that include employee training, business policy development, and consultation and law enforcement supports when a domestic violence incident occurs.

Lead investigator Chris Blodgett, associate scientist and extension specialist in human development and director of WSU Spokane’s Child and Family Research Unit, points out that domestic violence is a systemic, community problem and its impact in the workplace is only one expression of a problem that challenges all aspects of the community.

“In domestic violence incidents, workplaces are one point of victimization in a chain of victimizing acts,” Blodgett said. “As a result, expecting businesses to handle this issue in isolation is ineffective.”

According to the Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium, while efforts at reducing other forms of workplace violence have been shown to be effective, domestic violence in the workplace has not decreased and continues to impact not only the victim, but also the victim’s co-workers and the workplace in general. Additionally, very little data exists which allows researchers to measure this form of domestic violence or its workplace impact.

The project is not an effort aimed at victim advocacy, but rather a method to allow employers and employees to identify domestic violence and to eliminate or minimize its impact on the workplace. The project being funded will test a coordinated response from the education and prevention, business, and law enforcement sectors of the community.

The Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium and Associated Industries of the Inland Northwest will take the lead in the project by providing training, policy development, critical incident response, and follow-up services allowing employers to identify and appropriately address domestic violence concerns in their workplace while remaining cognizant of the privacy and safety of all employees.

The Spokane Police Department and Spokane Sheriff’s Office will consult with businesses regarding prevention and will coordinate law enforcement’s response to domestic violence events. WSU Spokane researchers will evaluate the services to businesses in a long-term research program.

While the services offered through this program are available only to members of Associated Industries, the consortium already has in existence a domestic violence in the workplace program, and will provide assistance to any employer in the region needing assistance. Businesses interested in services should call the consortium at (509) 487-6783.

Domestic violence in the workplace has been associated with significant human and organizational costs. The Bureau of National Affairs (1990) estimated that American business lost $3-5 billion annually due to domestic violence because of absenteeism, medical bills, employee turnover and lost productivity. In a national survey, EDK Associates (1997) reports that 37 percent of women who were domestic violence victims experienced work disruptions because of absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Blodgett said that current crime-based estimates of domestic violence in the workplace are believed to significantly underestimate its prevalence.

Spokane Police Chief Roger Bragdon said calls for service involving domestic violence are the third highest category of all calls to his department; in 2001, the SPD received 4,532 domestic violence calls.

“Having investigated more than 5,200 incidents of domestic violence last year, our deputies are very aware that the issue spills out of the home and becomes a workplace issue as well, said Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk. “We hope this grant will allow us to better educate employers about domestic violence in the workplace, and better enable them to identify employees at risk and to assist law enforcement in reducing that risk.”

Chief Bragdon said the potential for workplace violence often can be identified if businesses develop a method of private communication with possible victims, and develop a plan to deal with a sudden violent incident. He noted that domestic violence in workplaces has increased in recent years, citing one instance in downtown Spokane when a man armed with a handgun burst into the business office of his girlfriend, determined to kill her. He was met by two Spokane patrol officers who had been called by the intended victim after she was threatened. When the officers attempted to stop and calm the man, he fired at them at point blank range. They were not hit and returned fire, fatally wounding the man.

More contacts:
Christopher Blodgett, Child & Family Research, WSU Spokane, 509/358-7679, blodgett@wsu.edu
Jennifer Stapleton, Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium, 509/487-6783, jstapleton@domesticviolence.net
Ann Allen, Associated Industries of the Inland Northwest, 509/777-2653, ailegal@aiin.com
Dick Cottam, Spokane Police Department, 509/625-4456, pio@spokanepolice.org
Cpl. Dave Reagan, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, 509/477-6612, dreagan@spokanecounty.org

Web sites:
WSU Spokane: www.spokane.wsu.edu
Spokane Police Department: www.spokanepolice.org
Spokane County Sheriff: www.spokanesheriff.org
Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium: www.domesticviolence.net
Associated Industries of the Inland Northwest: www.aiin.com