The majority of New York state agencies have revamped their domestic violence prevention practices and appointed a liaison to comply with an executive order months ahead of schedule, according to a report released by the state inspector general's office Wednesday.
The changes come fewer than three months after it was revealed senior leadership in the Office of General Services did not follow policy when an employee indicated she was a victim of domestic abuse.
In 2019, the woman was killed by her husband, who then died by suicide. The tragedy was a catalyst for the New York inspector general to study deficiencies in state policy and practices, released in April.
"We can never know if the oversights that happened in that tragic case would have been prevented if any one thing had been different, but what we can do is to educate state agencies, state employees, political leaders and all community members about the complexity of domestic violence and how to identify the signs of domestic violence," state Inspector General Lucy Lang said Wednesday.
Lang spent the day in Seneca Falls, hosting a forum to commemorate the 174th anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention, or first convention for women's rights in the United States.
"We also need to educate [agencies] ... how to connect people with the trauma-informed survivor center resources that they need," she added.
Also in late April, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued an executive order requiring all state agencies adopt gender-based violence workplace policies and have a domestic violence liaison to work with the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
Of the liaisons, Lang said, "All of this is with an eye toward developing a holistic, survivor-centered approach to domestic violence rates than a sole law enforcement response."
About 98%, or 83 of the 90 state agencies surveyed by the state Office of the Inspector General, have appointed a liaison to prevent domestic violence, according to the report released Wednesday. Seventy-five agencies, or 88%, have liaisons who have received training from the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
"Liasions [help] to focus on broadening the understanding of what domestic violence looks like and helping employees across government service know and understand that there are resources in place, there are things they can do to help support someone and there are strategies to help support the accountability of someone who might be abusive and who is also employed by that particular agency," said Connie Neal, the executive director of the state Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The OPDV liaison provides services, including connection to local community groups, shelter systems, social workers and other experts who work in trauma-related fields.
About 82%, or 70 agencies, have an agency-specific Domestic Violence in the Workplace policy with nine departments following another agency's guidelines.
Three agencies did not have a domestic violence policy or liaison. The majority of liaisons work in human relations, administration or are an executive-level employee of the state agency.
Five agencies did not respond to the IG's request as of press time.
The inspector general's office would not identify Wednesday which offices have yet to respond, implement a Domestic Violence in the Workplace policy or a related liaison because they have more than five months to comply with the order. The IG will announce offices found to be in noncompliance after Jan. 1.
"The integrity of government is, at its core, a women's issue," Lang said. "It is a racial issue — it's an issue that should matter to everyone, and we are charged as the Office of the Inspector General with overseeing investigations into fraud, corruption and abuse in state agencies. What we saw here was, really, a very rapid response in support, really a rallying around the issue of domestic violence."
Lang is confident all 90 agencies will be in compliance by Jan. 1. The inspector general will ensure all agencies are in compliance with binding recommendations if necessary.
OPDV Executive Director Kelli Owens stressed domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence don't stop when someone gets to work, as victims and survivors may be stalked or harassed at the office or arrive with signs of physical abuse.
“We should use every opportunity to educate people to recognize what gender-based violence looks like, learn how to help survivors and make it easier for survivors to get resources," Owens said. "Gov. Hochul’s executive order requiring that all NYS agencies adopt expanded gender-based violence workplace policies, as well as require each agency to appoint a domestic violence agency liaison, will ensure that all survivors who work for New York State are met with resources that are survivor-centered, trauma-informed and culturally responsive."
Owens credited Lang and Hochul for the step forward, adding it shows the impact women in leadership have on policy and people of the state.
Agencies are roughly evenly split in offering annual domestic violence in the workplace training to staff, with 45% not offering that training.
The report shows three agencies were solely relying on the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence policies instead of devising and implementing their own as required.
The inspector general started surveying the agencies late this spring to provide a snapshot of the progress toward meeting the governor's Jan. 1 deadline and help agencies with the transition. In the report, Lang concluded the majority of agencies actively distribute their policy or contact information of their liaison through emails, posters and trainings.
Lang recommends each new hire receives thorough training about an agency's domestic violence policy during the onboarding process, and to require all staff to read and review the policy each year.
Hochul's April executive order is similar, but enforces new mandates, on the Aug. 1, 2008 executive order signed by then-governor David Paterson requiring state agencies to form and issue a domestic violence policy. Agencies were directed to use guidance distributed by the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which included a directive that each agency appoint a liaison, but agencies were not obligated to adopt the full policy and procedures.
"Gov. Hochul's mother opened a home for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence, and this issue is personal for her, which is why she's worked to make New York state a safer place for all by requiring state agencies to adopt policies that protect employees and create a safe workplace environment for survivors," Hochul's Press Secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays said in a statement. "We will continue to fight for the safety of victims and survivors and to prevent domestic violence.”
State departments and agencies must appoint a liaison under Hochul's order, which also requires mandatory annual training for supervisors, domestic violence agency liaisons, human resources staff and all employees working directly for the governor.
New York is the only U.S. state to have an executive-level agency dedicated to gender-based violence, including domestic abuse, stalking and sexual assault. The Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence was created in 1992.