Study of workplace domestic violence reveals common scenarios

Recent murder of teacher in Brampton, Ont., a textbook case of how domestic violence can spill into the workplace
||Last Updated: 04/18/2005

The recent murder of a teacher by her husband in a school parking lot in Brampton, Ont., is a textbook example of how domestic violence can spill into the workplace.

Aysegul Candir, a 47-year-old teacher at Bramalea Secondary School, was shot and killed in the parking lot of the school on Dec. 10.

The manner in which she was attacked is typical of most domestic violence murders in the workplace, according to new research out of the United States that looked at assaults in the U.S, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The study of 155 domestic violence assaults that occur in the workplace revealed a number of common trends and risk factors. The study was conducted by Peace at Work, a non-profit group based in Raleigh, N.C., dedicated to preventing workplace violence.

Some common characteristics among the 155 assaults studied include:

•31 per cent assaults occurred in the parking lot and at the beginning of the work day;

•25 per cent of the victims had attempted to protect themselves by obtaining restraining orders; and

•77 per cent of the attacks were carried out using a firearm.

Most workplaces not taking any precautions

Of the 155 assaults studied, 88 per cent occurred in the U.S. with the remainder in Canada and the U.K.

Only eight per cent of the businesses reported taking any precautions though the study authors said that in 23 per cent of the cases there were clear warning signs such as complaints by the victim to her employer or prior threats and disturbances at the workplace.

Steps employers can take

John Lee, founder and director of Peace at Work, said employers can take a number of steps to reduce the likelihood of such an attack at work.

Because so many of the perpetrators of domestic violence aren’t trying to escape from authorities (42 per cent either commit suicide or attempt to and 11 per cent turn themselves in), companies can’t rely on traditional security measures such as increasing lighting or surveillance cameras, he said.

Lee suggests the employer should “target-harden” the victim by moving her work station, job site or at the very least her parking spot to reduce the exposure to risk.

Since local law enforcement should also be notified of the potential threat, the employer can ask police to increase patrols in the area during shift change.

Warning signs such as repeated visits, disturbances, threats and the stated or observable fear of the victim needs to be addressed with an immediate response. Once a threat has been identified, management needs to pull together their internal resources such as HR, security, employee assistance and legal counsel and community services including domestic violence agencies, law enforcement or a security consultant to assess the risk and implement protective measures, said Lee.

But he said true prevention starts with a workplace violence policy that demonstrates support and protection for victim employees. All employees need training on recognizing the warning signs and dynamics of domestic violence, how to refer to available services and the importance of notifying a supervisor if there is a potential danger.

“If an employee sees their workplace as a source of support they are more likely to disclose their predicament and the potential threat to management,” said Lee. “This initial warning is the vital first step to any security planning.”

Workplaces will continue to be a dangerous spot for domestic violence because when a victim has left an abusive spouse, the one place the victim can be easily found is the workplace, he said.

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