What Employers Can Learn From the NFL. And Ray Rice.

Members of the Baltimore Ravens prepare to run drills at the team's first day of NFL football training camp, Thursday, July 3
Members of the Baltimore Ravens prepare to run drills at the team's first day of NFL football training camp, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The beginning of football season brings a lot of excitement, and also concern about what's happening off the field. In 2014, domestic violence was as much a topic of conversation as the games themselves. And in Baltimore -- home of the Ravens and Ray Rice, who was captured on video hitting his then fiancée -- the issue became personal for our community.

As events were unfolding, the Ravens reached out to House of Ruth Maryland for assistance. Stunned by the fact that someone they knew so well had undeniably acted the way he did, both the Ravens organization and fans were looking for answers. The first part of the partnership we formed with the Ravens was to help with that. Through trainings and initiatives to raise awareness, we began our work of educating the Ravens staff to be able to recognize signs of abuse, respond appropriately, and how to find help. Our partnership continually brings opportunities to change perceptions and attitudes in the community, and to speak up about the behaviors that are unacceptable. This is a big step forward for the Ravens and the NFL, and one we would like to see replicated not just throughout the NFL, but across all industries.

The national conversation this incident generated around domestic violence was unprecedented. It took a high-profile sports hero and a powerful, influential organization -- the NFL -- to give it that attention. What must not be overlooked is that domestic violence is found in every corner of our society. It is as prevalent in your own neighborhood -- no matter where you live -- as it is in the NFL or any other sports organization. People from all walks of life are affected, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, profession or sexual orientation. In the workplace community, low-wage workers, however, are particularly vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence -- not because they experience it any more than other workers, but because they often lack the resources, flexible schedules or paid time off to obtain help, go to court, or recover from medical issues.

One in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life. On average, more than three women per day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States. In addition to jeopardizing the health, safety, economic security, and lives of its victims, domestic and sexual violence costs more than $37 billion a year in law enforcement involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity at companies. The most horrifying fact of all is that most domestic and sexual violence incidents are never reported, meaning all of these estimates are likely much lower than reality. And, so very many people are not seeking and receiving help.

Employers are in a unique position to address issues of violence and put policies in place to protect their workers both within and outside the workplace. Beyond a moral obligation to do so, there is an economic component for employers to consider: absenteeism, impaired job performance, and loss of experienced employees are only some of the costs that companies bear as a result of violence. A safe and supportive workplace benefits everyone.

We've seen advancements in this realm through our partnership with St. Joseph Medical Center in Baltimore, which was formed to create policies, protocols and awareness that will enable the entire organization to respond effectively to situations of intimate partner abuse and sexual assault. The program is bringing resources and training to supervisors and employees, and is establishing ongoing support for dealing with the issue. This collaboration of employer, employees, and anti-violence activists is part of the Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence initiative from leading anti-violence organization Futures Without Violence, and is one of just a few partnerships in the country working to address the workplace impacts of domestic and sexual violence that is particularly focused on low-wage and immigrant workers. We need many, many more such collaborations and employer participation to accomplish long-term, sustainable change.

It's encouraging to see so much more awareness of domestic and sexual violence following the Ray Rice incident, and we're hopeful that the NFL will continue to make progress in addressing the issue. But the work is far from done. Each workplace and each industry is different and requires a tailored approach for dealing with violence. The work we're doing with the Ravens and other partners can be replicated within a variety of industries. House of Ruth Maryland and other antiviolence organizations can be resources to employers who are ready to implement their own program. When the message is universal, consistent and clear, and when our communities work together, we will see real and lasting change.

Sandi Timmins is the Executive Director of House of Ruth Maryland (www.hruth.org) one of the nation's leading intimate partner violence centers, helping thousands of battered women and their children find the safety and security that so many of us take for granted.