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Evan Horowitz

Beyond the NFL: How other companies handle domestic violence

The penalty that NFL running back Ray Rice received when he was first implicated in domestic violence was a two-week suspension. Now that the full brutality of the incident has surfaced in a new video, Rice has been suspended from football. And the league, which was roundly criticized for its handling of the situation, is developing a new domestic violence policy, including stringent consequences for abusers and guidance for how players can prevent domestic violence among their peers.

What’s different about the NFL?

NFL players seem no more likely to commit domestic abuse than other men their age. Indeed, one of the most appalling things about the video of Ray Rice punching his wife is just how commonplace an event it really is. Every day, thousands of men in this country physically abuse their wives or girlfriends.

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One thing that does distinguish the NFL is that it will now have a domestic violence policy. Few other companies do, and even fewer provide the training and support needed to effectively implement those policies.

How do companies handle domestic violence?

Only about 12 percent of businesses have a program or policy that deals with domestic violence, according to a 2005 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number that provide training on the matter is just 4 percent.

In an effort to change that, the US Department of Justice has supported the development of an online Workplace Toolkit, with tips on the kinds of policies that can help support the victims of domestic violence and hold perpetrators accountable.

What do these policies cover?

Domestic violence policies vary a great deal among organizations that use them, not least because organizations vary. A policy for NFL players could largely deal with the treatment of suspected abusers, from a fair investigation to clear consequences. By contrast, a policy for hospital employees or hotel workers might also include guidance on how to assist vulnerable employees.

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What’s the point of a policy anyway?

The idea is to address issues before they explode. It’s more common for companies to do nothing until there’s a domestic violence incident they can’t ignore, at which point they’re forced to cobble together a response under great duress and in short order. That’s essentially what happened to the NFL. A more proactive approach, including a formal policy, can help companies manage such situations more smoothly and more effectively.

Has the federal government done anything?

All federal agencies are now required to have domestic violence policies. The Department of Justice was among the first to finalize its rules, and their statement of purpose is very clear. Not only do they want to assist victims and punish those who perpetrate domestic violence, but they want their policy to become a model for other companies and organizations.

Not every act of domestic violence is caught on video, and few indeed are committed by famous athletes. But a large number of the men who beat their wives do work, and so do those wives. That’s one reason federal agencies have started implementing new workplace policies, and it’s a reason other companies might want to follow suit.


Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz