Research and Special Projects

Violence Prevention Policy and Procedures Evaluation

by Thomas Underwood

Content Review

Policies should include an introduction that offers a general description of purpose and the targeted audience. It is imperative that a section of these types of documents outline the development of the policy, how the document will be disseminated, and the extent to which the target audience and/or employees have a responsibility to know and understand the content.
The following are specific policy and procedure areas:

  1. Policy Regarding Violence
    Identify the organization’s policy statement regarding violence. Is this statement clearly articulated? Does it include, for example, a zero tolerance regarding violence? A deterrent approach to violence with the threat of sanctions levied against violators is the most common organizational policy statement regarding violence. An organization may consider the inclusion of a public health approach which complements the deterrent statement by communicating an emphasis on personal responsibility for positive behavior and victim empathy (Potter, et al, 2000). While a clear statement of zero tolerance and a statement of consequences are important, a positive approach that embraces education and awareness may be more consistent with overall organizational policies.
  2. Definitions
    A second important component of a policy is to outline basic definitions used in the document. This is particularly valuable since the policy and procedure document addressed topics often unknown to the general public and are often characterized by inconsistent and erroneous information. It is essential that all terms are consistently and exclusively defined in the body of the document. Sometime terms are defined simply by reference to other terms. For example, the term “gang rape” should not be included if it does not appear elsewhere in the document and the offered definition should not be “see sexual assault.” This type of cross-referencing can be confusing to the target audience and can create more confusion than the policy intended.
    Another area of concern may be the length of definitions. For example, terms such as “victim/survivor” may be very long and extend beyond a simple definition appropriate for a policy and procedure document. The term should simply be limited to “used interchangeably to refer to individuals who have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking.” In using a broader definition of the term there may be presentation of the transition conceptualization whereby a victim is viewed as transcending to that of survivor. This conceptualization presents a bias or preference for one term over the other, a conceptualization not necessarily shared by all in the field (Underwood, 2003) or appropriate for the objectivity needed in policy development.
  3. Procedures for Addressing Violence and Victimization
    A policy and procedure document should provide a variety of responses to violence and victimization. Specific examples include:
    Seek Safety – This may include contacting law enforcement or security, but it must also include guidelines in providing refuge and assistance if a customer, vendor, or fellow employee feels unsafe pending law enforcement’s arrival. If a victim is advised to leave the premises, what actions should be considered to ensuring safe departure? What documentation is required? Where and how should the documentation be filed and/or kept confidential? What levels of the organization require documentation?
    Call an Advocate - Is this an option for all persons in the organization: customers, vendors, and employees? What are the expectations of employees regarding notification of supervisor (note this may simply be a reference to another employee policy)?
    Seek Medical and Mental Health Care – Again, is this an option for everyone? What documentation is required?
    Report Incident – What are the exact procedures for filing a complaint within an organization? Which office(s) must be notified about an incident? Specifically, what forms are required and what are the time limits? Do these same reporting guides apply to all employees? What protections are established for the victim? What is the specific protocol for investigation? Is there a process for organizational adjudication?
  4. Resources/Services
    This section must provide an overview of available resources offered by the organization (if applicable) and within the community. The information should be complete with, perhaps, tips for support and safety.

Policy and Procedure Gaps
In general, policies must be broad and not limited in its scope and specificity. There are additional aspects that should be considered in a policy and procedure document. Some of the specific issues that should be considered for an expanded policy and procedure document:

Adjudication Process - Specific rights and responsibilities should be articulated regarding the adjudication process, including the right for others to be present, to move the process from the informal to the formal (including report to local law enforcement or prosecutor office), and the appeal process.

Coordinated Services - While the organization and community may have victim and allied services, policies should be developed to ensure proper coordination, such as articulation agreements about shared resources and how service gaps are addressed.

Documentation – Policies should be established regarding thorough and accurate record keeping by relevant departments.

Education – Minimum expectations for information and training for both employees and administrators should be articulated.

Environment – The environment refers to the victim’s work situation. Policies and procedures about options to change these environments and how victims are notified about these options should be included.

Conclusion

School and workplace organizations are microcosms of the larger society and face the same challenges regarding appropriate prevention and responses to victimization. A policy and procedure document that addresses violence and victimization should be characterized by the following:

  1. Comprehensive – Policies should embrace a public health or prevention focus, as well as a criminal justice or a deterrent focus.
  2. Specific - A policy and procedure document should include specific procedures or steps to carry out the policies, as well as examples of documents such as forms that may be required.
  3. Dissemination Strategy – Policies and procedures without a clear statement as to how they are disseminated and the responsibility of those affected in knowing them are often simply words on a page. There may be several audiences targeted in a policy and procedure document. A statement identifying these audiences and how they are to receive information should be articulated.

Sources

Langford, L. (n.d.) Preventing violence and promoting safety in higher education settings: Overview of a comprehensive approach. MA: U.S. Dept of Education, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.

Potter, R.H., Krider, J.E., & McMahon, P.M. (2000). Examining elements of campus sexual violence policies: Is deterrence or health promotion favored?. Violence Against Women, 6 (12), pp. 1345-1362.

Underwood, T. (2003). Concepts of victim assistance. In Victim Assistance: Exploring Individual Practice, Organizational Policy, and Societal Responses. (T. Underwood and C. Edmunds, Eds). New York, NY: Springer Publ, pp. 1-20.

Zubretsky, T.M. (1998) Model domestic violence policy for counties. New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.