How Hospital Security Departments Can Help Protect Domestic Violence Victims

Identifying Relationship Violence: 14 Signs of an Aggressor’s Behavior

As a hospital security professional, if you think domestic violence prevention and response isn’t part of your job, think again. James Sawyer, who is director of security at Seattle Children’s Hospital as well as president of the Washington State Crime Prevention Assn., believes that hospital security and public safety departments must work to prevent the threat of domestic violence from seeping into the workplace. Additionally, he believes healthcare providers must help their employees free themselves from abusive relationships that can impact their personally lives, as well as their work environment.

U.S. domestic and dating violence statistics support Sawyer’s claim.

“Hospitals have [an employee] gender ratio of 89 percent female/11 percent male, and in the United States, one in four women are in an at-risk relationship,” he says. “Currently in the United States you have one million women who have either been shot or shot at by a domestic partner. The chances of a woman dying by gunfire in this country are 16 and a half times greater than in any other western country. Those are numbing, damning statistics, and I think given that, you can factor this: 75 percent of women who are victims are targeted, harassed at work.”

Additionally, Sawyer points out that if domestic violence does come onto your campus, not only is the primary target a possible victim, there might be collateral damage, such as her co-workers or patients.

“Remember, of the over 400 mass shootings in the United States, over half start out as domestic violence,” Sawyer says. “So if you allow it to creep and seep into the workplace, you could have four or five or six people hurt. That’s why you’ve got to take this very seriously. You do not want this individual coming into your workplace. You don’t want that at all.”

In his interview with Campus Safety magazine at the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) 50th Annual Conference and Exhibition, Sawyer described some of the steps that hospitals can take to assist and protect their employees who are victims of domestic or dating violence.


Sawyer: First thing, have a domestic violence support plan. Have a domestic violence support policy. Have a policy that’s not your company’s best kept secret. Have a policy that’s showcased on page one in block letters when a new employee comes on saying that if they’re in a domestic crisis, the organization will take certain steps to support them. It’s pivotal that an organization does that. Too many companies say it’s a private matter, they can only get so far involved. Don’t do that.

You can assist an employee with an emergency housing; you can assist an employee with an emergency locksmith; you can tell them how to get a no-contact order, a restraining order, an anti-harassment order; you can change her schedules; you can change her mode of transportation; you can provide them with taxi vouchers, bus vouchers; you can help them get a rental car; you can arrange parking lot escorts for them; you can arrange offsite parking for them; you can liaison them with domestic violence support groups.

You can contact the perpetrator, if the person asks you to. Remember, you’re working for the victim; if they ask you to contact them, you can do it. There are techniques you can use when you contact someone to help deescalate them, and get them off your staff member’s back.

You can issue them with a criminal trespass notice, saying it’s in our mutual best interests that we sever ties. You can do it in a nice way.

Security companies, if you have a staff in a situation like that, you have got to know who you’re dealing with. Run the person’s background. If there’s an assault history, if there’s a history of prior violence, take that very, very, very seriously.

If you work with private contractors you could work with them and arrange maybe, if the person’s stalking them, even watch someone’s house at night. There’s a whole menu of things you can do to support someone that most people don’t even think about.

Do you know how to recognize and respond to an extreme violence event? This training program prepares any individual to become situationally aware of their surroundings, pick up on early indicators that something might be wrong, and respond effectively if they find themselves in an extreme violence event. Learn more.

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