Chris Oaks spoke with Ashley Ritz of Open Arms Domestic Violence & Rape Crisis Services:
Q: The situation involving Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football program has generated much debate on social media. Many people seem to be asking what responsibility an employer or manager has to report an allegation about a domestic violence incident that happens outside the workplace.
A: The important thing to remember is that, as with any educational entity, there are Title IX obligations in this specific case. I’m not an attorney or education professional, but basically this law dictates a specific reporting process that must be followed for any incident of this type.
While a private employer may have a policy whereby a failure to report such information may put your job in jeopardy, there are potential legal implications not only for the football coach but the university as well.
Q: To be clear, we don’t want to speculate about this specific case because we have no inside knowledge and there is much that at this point is unknown. That said, in your mind what is the moral obligation when a supervisor hears of an allegation that did not occur in the workplace and he or she did not witness personally?
A: I think it’s important not to act solely on rumor or gossip. If one suspects an employee or subordinate is being abused, talk to that individual privately and get some clarification if you can. Many victims often tell us that they wish someone would have simply asked them what was going on. For whatever reason, we tend to be afraid to bring up the subject with someone we think might be a victim. Remember that you may be a lifeline to that person.
Q: What if you suspect the employee or subordinate is an abuser? As repugnant as domestic violence is, should it cost someone their livelihood — especially in cases outside of the workplace in which no charges are filed?
A: Again, the Ohio State case is unique due to the Title IX implications, but in the case of a private company, that would depend on a company’s policy on these issues. And if that isn’t spelled out in the company policy, it probably should be because these issues aren’t going away.
It’s worth noting that one of the reasons victims decline to press charges or pursue a case is due to a fear that her abuser would lose his job. Which not only might mean she could potentially lose her means of financial support, but could make the abusive situation worse by being another trigger for violence.
Q: Which is another aspect that has reared its ugly head in this case — victim shaming.
A: The difficulty in getting victims to report and follow through on their cases is always a delicate issue. It’s easy to say that she should have pressed charges, but we aren’t in her shoes and can’t imagine the pressure she may have been under to keep quiet. That is certainly not an excuse to assume that the allegations aren’t factual, and while it’s true that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, our default position should never be to blame the victim or disbelieve her story.
Q: In the end, do you see this case as being helpful in bringing more awareness to this issue? Or does the possibility of a popular sports team losing a popular coach lead to anger that is somehow projected on all victims?
A: I believe any type of awareness is good. I feel bad for the situation that everyone finds themselves in in this case, but mostly my heart goes out to Courtney Smith.
Ultimately, we want victims to know that there are resources available to help. And I should also point out that friends, family members and co-workers of victims can also reach out to those services as well, to ask questions and find out what your options are to help.
I think we all have a moral obligation to help those we see in trouble in any way we can.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.