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The Lesson We Should Really Take From the DSK-Sofitel Story

The Lesson We Should Really Take From the DSK-Sofitel Story

Posted: 05/23/11 12:22 PM ET

The allegations against IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a Hotel Sofitel housekeeper are a reminder of the serious need for corporations to have policies regarding violence in the workplace.

It is unclear whether the Sofitel Hotel franchise, or its parent corporation Accor, had such a policy in effect. Sofitel has made no statements asserting that they have such a policy. Media reports have told us that when the housekeeper escaped Strauss-Kahn's room she told several hotel employees and managers of the attack, and that the Sofitel management then called the police to report the allegations.

However, in an exclusive report from Reuters, it appears that the Sofitel management waited an hour from the time the housekeeper reported the attack before calling the police. The Reuters report doesn't clarify what this wait was for... to calm the victim or to deliberate calling the authorities as this French hotel would be reporting an alleged crime by a well-known French political figure.

Whatever the reason for the hour delay, if a well-defined and commonly known company policy on workplace violence were in place prior to the alleged attack, the victim would have known exactly who to approach and the authorities would have been notified immediately. Workplace violence policies, also known as domestic violence policies, are critical components of well-managed corporations. As an expert in international violence against women and as a PhD in Industrial Organization Psychology, I have spent two decades working tirelessly to educate employers on having and effectively implementing these policies. The international media focus on the alleged sexual assault and attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn at a New York City Sofitel Hotel must be viewed as an opportunity to also focus on the importance of workplace domestic violence policies.

Violence in the workplace is widespread and comes in many forms -- it can be violence committed against a woman by her intimate partner, by a co-worker, or as alleged in this case, by a customer, a complete stranger to her. In any circumstance, a detailed and public workplace violence policy should be in place to address the crisis when it happens.

Workplace violence/domestic violence policies should articulate the many components that employers and employees must deal with when a violent situation arises. They should combine protocols and clearly define actions for security staff, management, co-workers, and even the victims to take. They should make clear the steps that must be taken in the event of an alleged instance of violence, and they must also serve to prevent such violence from happening in the first place. And more, they must clearly define responses such as contacting the proper law enforcement authorities, and making statements to the public and media. In the United States alone, violence in the workplace and domestic violence costs corporations nearly $1 billion dollars per year. When an employee is abused sexually or physically on the job, it can lead to legal liabilities, damage to the company's public image, bad press, revenue loss and the loss of valued employees.

Workplace domestic violence policies can and do prevent many of these negative outcomes. Beyond this, and more importantly, policies and procedures for addressing violence in the workplace protects victims and their livelihoods. The last thing a victim of workplace violence needs is to be afraid to report the crime to her superiors because she thinks she won't be believed or that she will lose her job. The existence of a company policy on workplace violence and domestic violence -- a policy that is made known to everyone in the company -- can and does allow victims to safely come forward with their allegations.

Such policies not only account for the procedures that must be followed within the workplace, they also account for the kind of support system a victim will need outside of work, they have established partnerships with local advocacy groups that can connect victims with psychological and medical help, counseling for herself and her family, and other personal needs that arise from being the victim of a violent crime. Good policies also protect the privacy of victims, and ensure her rights to draw on disability leave pay until she can return to her job.

The bottom line is that workplace domestic violence policies benefit both the company and the victim. And the lack of such a policy will undoubtedly hurt both the company and the victim.

The Hotel Sofitel/Strauss-Kahn case must serve a higher purpose than journalistic sensationalism, it must serve to remind all corporations of the need to develop and effectively implement workplace domestic violence policies.

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