EDITORIALS

LePage is right: Time for businesses to step up against domestic violence

Gov. LePage smiles during a press conference in Waterville in 2010.
Gov. LePage smiles during a press conference in Waterville in 2010.
Posted Sept. 08, 2011, at 5:20 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage’s call to enlist business owners and managers in detecting and intervening in domestic violence is an important step forward on this despicable crime.

The nonprofit domestic violence projects around the state which provide telephone hot lines, counseling, safe houses and other resources to victims will remain essential. But it is time for the business sector to pitch in and help.

Conservatives often talk about a past in which social problems such as poverty, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence relied less on bureaucracies and more on community-based institutions such as churches for solutions. That past is often idealized; systemic, publicly funded and managed groups are critical to helping those in need.

The governor signed an executive order Wednesday directing state agencies to make awareness about the crime — which typically accounts for half the murders in Maine each year — a priority.

But there is slack to be taken up by others, and businesses are a logical place to look for help. At the event at which he signed the executive order, the governor announced the creation of a domestic violence “tool kit” to be offered to businesses at no cost. The kit includes facts about abuse and sample policies businesses might adopt.

That’s a sensible approach likely to have an impact.

When a woman is wearing extra makeup to hide a bruise on her face, her co-workers are likely to notice. If she receives personal calls at work that leave her in tears and suggest her boyfriend or spouse is berating her, that, too will be noticed. If she turns down social invitations and displays other signs of being cut off from friends and family, her co-workers are likely to notice.

If business owners and manager want to stand against domestic violence, they must walk a fine line between unwanted intrusion into an employee’s personal life and intervening to avert an impending — or ongoing — tragedy.

An effective policy would allow workers to refer concerns to a designated employee who could then provide literature to the person who may be a victim. If the victim of abuse acknowledges it, the business can remove a substantial obstacle to getting help by providing the employee the time and support of co-workers to leave the abusive household.

Domestic abuse and the workplace also intersect on matters of security. Often, estranged partners decide to exact revenge at the victim’s workplace. Businesses must have clear policies that anticipate such trespass.

The governor bristled at the suggestion that another law his administration championed — LD 35, which makes it illegal for employers to prohibit workers with concealed weapons permits from keeping guns in their vehicles at the workplace — conflicted with his campaign against domestic violence.

It’s a fantasy that an abuser intent on killing a partner at the workplace is going to be thwarted by an alert co-worker who grabs a weapon from the trunk of the car and intervenes. In fact, the law seems out of character with the LePage agenda that aims to get government out of the way of business. A business owner should be able to establish a gun-free workplace if he or she desires.

Yet the governor’s words send the right message: “As a man, it’s important that I say that abuse is wrong. It’s my turn and my time to step up,” he said. It’s also time for business to step up.

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