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Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Delivers Remarks on New Policy to Address Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking in the Workplace


United States

Thank you, Bea [Hanson], for that kind introduction.  It’s a special privilege to join you in commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which we have extended into November this year, as a result of the shutdown.  Bea, I first want to recognize the leadership that you show in addressing domestic violence.  I’d also like to thank the dedicated team in the Office on Violence Against Women who continuously move this issue forward, and who never lose sight of its importance, regardless of the challenges.  I’d also like to acknowledge the work of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, ATF, and so many others here in Main Justice who work hard to enforce the Violence Against Women Act. 

As all of us know too well, domestic violence inflicts severe harm on our society.  So many women, men and children in our country – of every background, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation – are damaged by this devastating crime.  According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 3 women in the United States will experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner at some time in their lives. 

And the effects of domestic violence don’t just remain within the walls of the home.  They affect all of us who live and work with victims and survivors, their children, and other loved ones, and it takes a terrible toll on our communities.  That impact can be drastic, as is tragically clear from recent reports of violent domestic attacks in the workplace.  As just one example, in 2010 at the Emcore Corp. manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a man reportedly shot and killed his ex-girlfriend outside the plant, then entered the plant where he shot and killed two other employees and injured four more, before taking his own life.

Unfortunately, this tragic incident is not just an isolated occurrence.  Nearly 33% of women killed in U.S. workplaces between 2003 and 2008 were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

That’s why, last year, President Obama issued a memorandum requiring federal agencies to develop policies to address the effects of domestic violence in the workplace and provide assistance to employees who are experiencing domestic violence.  Not surprisingly, the Department of Justice has always been at the forefront of these issues, starting with Attorney General Reno’s workplace domestic violence order issued in 1999. Building upon that foundation, I am pleased to say that I have approved – and we will announce today -- an extension of the Reno policy that fully responds to the President’s call to federal agencies, and that addresses not only domestic violence in the workplace, but also sexual assault, and stalking that find their ways to work.

The Department of Justice alone has approximately 114,000 employees.  It is our hope that our policy will serve as a model to other government agencies and to the private sector for addressing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and their impacts on the workplace. 

In addition to jeopardizing the safety of American workers, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking cost a tremendous amount of money in lost productivity.  Victims of domestic violence are often harassed at worked by repeated calls, texts, or emails from their abusers during the workday.  Even more daunting, abusers may show up at their victims’ worksites, and victims may miss work or reduce their performance as a result of these experiences. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the cost of intimate partner violence, which includes rape, physical assault, and stalking, totals nearly $8.2 billion each year, of which, the cost of lost productivity in the workplace accounts for nearly $1.8 billion annually.   The CDC has also reported that domestic violence victims, as a result of the violence they experience, lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work each year—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.   In addition to threatening victims’ peace of mind, which understandably distracts them from their work, victims often must take time off from work to go to court, to meet with lawyers, to obtain a restraining order, or to seek medical and mental health care.

That’s why the Department’s new workplace violence policy is vitally important.   For the last six months, the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office of Justice Programs, Justice Management Division, the Office of Legal Counsel, the Civil Rights Division, and the Civil Division, as well as other components in the Department worked to develop DOJ’s policy.  They worked closely with the interagency group that advised the Office of Personnel Management in developing guidance to federal agencies for crafting their own workplace policies. 

Because of their work, I am proud to report that the Department is leading the federal response to this problem as the first major federal agency to submit a final workplace domestic violence policy in response to the President’s memorandum.  The new policy will allow components to improve the safety of the Department’s workplaces and will help us better support victims.  It makes clear that component heads are responsible for ensuring the prompt investigation of incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking in the workplace that come to the attention of Department management. 

Importantly, if Department employees somehow are the perpetrators of these acts, the policy makes clear that every component head has a duty to take appropriate disciplinary action.  The policy also requires supervisors to take into account whether domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking have affected an employee’s work, so that, to the extent possible, workplace policies do not further victimize employees targeted by these practices. 

As another means to provide support, each component must maintain a list of resources for victims and make available to victims information on how to contact the Justice Protective Service, Federal Protective Service, or other appropriate security or law enforcement personnel, if victims wish to have a police report taken.

Perhaps most importantly, all Department employees will receive training on our new policy, to ensure each of us will know how to support a colleague if they are ever a victim of these crimes.

The Department shares the Administration’s deep commitment to ending domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking and promoting a safe and healthy workplace.  The Department’s policy will help us provide an effective response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking when it affects the workplace.  And this policy will allow for such a response in a manner that fully supports victims and keeps all of us safe.

Before I finish, I want to take this time to thank all of the survivors, advocates, and organizations outside the Department who are the true heroes and leaders of this effort to finally end domestic violence.  Your contributions have made a real difference in helping to break the cycle of violence that destroys so many lives, families and communities.  We are grateful for your inspiration and for the opportunity to join you as partners in this important work.  Thank you.

Updated October 7, 2014