The Belcher murder-suicide shows why businesses should address domestic violence

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As I read the Post-Gazette this week, I could not help but consider the connections between two separate stories. The first was Joyce Gannon's Dec. 2 article, "Firms Lack Sound Policies to Fight Domestic Violence," and the other was the unfolding story about Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher's tragic murder of his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and his subsequent suicide in the parking lot of the Chiefs' practice stadium.

Ms. Gannon's article made the important point that employers do not often think about domestic violence as a business concern until it shows up as workplace violence or as an issue of employee productivity. The article focused on what employers can do to aid employed victims and keep the workplace safe from domestic violence.

The Belcher tragedy tells another side of this important story. If employers don't have domestic violence on their radar screens as a business issue, they almost certainly are not thinking about the threats to their organization from perpetrators who are employees.

We are still learning about Jovan Belcher's activities in the run-up to the murder of Perkins, but one fact is clear: He came to his workplace, Arrowhead Stadium, with a firearm, and he engaged with his boss and general manager prior to fatally shooting himself as police arrived on the scene.

In the end, Belcher killed only himself at the stadium, but his coach, general manager and any other coworkers or passersby in the area were potentially at risk as well. We do not have the full story yet on whether Belcher's coworkers had seen signs of trouble in his behavior or in his relationship with his victim.

James Brown, host of CBS' "The NFL Today," said this week that the issue is one that goes well beyond football. He reminded us that "not only are two young people dead, but the collateral damage is so much more extensive."

Of course, the primary victims, after Perkins, are the couple's child and the Perkins' family. They will be dealing with the aftermath of Belcher's violence forever. But the costs to an employer in the aftermath of a domestic violence-related event also can be severe, not only in financial or legal terms but also in lost productivity, increased employee turnover and damaged reputation. An organization can be affected even when violence takes place off-site.

At STANDING FIRM: The Business Case to End Partner Violence, we alert employers in southwestern Pennsylvania about the costs of domestic violence to the workplace and arm them with effective tools for taking action. I would like to remind employers in our area -- whether they run a football team, a hair salon, a retail store, a human services organization or a business housed in a corporate high-rise -- that, regardless of the sector or size of your business, domestic violence will affect your workplace. The question is whether you and your employees will be prepared.

How can you lower the risk that domestic-violence-related tragedies will occur? You can train and educate your employees and be aware of outside services that can help. You also can go to our website, www.standingfirmswpa.org, to find out other ways you can stand firm on behalf of the safety and well-being of your employees, your customers and your business.

opinion_commentary

Patricia Cluss, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, is director of STANDING FIRM (clusspa@pitt.edu).


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