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The vision of the Shrinking Violet Women's Shelter is to provide a safe haven for abused and battered women and their children. The mission includes giving these victims the tools to recapture their lives and repair the emotional, physical, and psychological effects of abuse and domestic violence. The core of the ethics and philosophy expected from the managers of the facility are a willingness to help any woman, regardless of their race or beliefs, a compassionate heart, and the ability to maximize all the tools and resources available so that these victims can become productive citizens in society and reclaim their shattered lives. As the executive director, I expect the management team to do unto others as they would like to be treated in return. I constantly would encourage the members of management and all the staff to put themselves in the shoes of each of the victims housed in the shelter and to imagine the events that have made them how they are right at the moment; then to step back and say to themselves what is the best thing I can do for this person to help them grow and get through this dark moment in their life.
When dealing with domestic violence and abuse, there are many ethical issues that have to be addressed. First of all, the victim has many psychological issues that stem from the violence and the abuse. Then there are the emotional effects of the abuse and the physical effects as well. Confidentiality is paramount; without it, lives are at stake. In many situations of domestic violence and abuse, the abusers look for and track down their victims. This is where as a management team decisions must be made for the greater good. Part of the expectation of privacy in this shelter includes no information being handed out to anyone that is not a staff member - and information is restricted on a need to know basis.
Another important aspect of the workplace that is implemented in the shelter is ARCH, which is our acronym for acceptance, respect, cooperation and honesty. These are the values that are expected daily from the staff, counselors, and management of the shelter. Acceptance is crucial because these women and children are feeling rejected and battered, and acceptance goes a long way toward the healing process. Respect is also integral to the healing process, because many times victims of abuse lose self-respect, and feel guilty for receiving the abuse. When they are given respect, their self esteem is boosted and they in turn start respecting themselves and start regaining their confidence. Cooperation is obviously key with all of the staff of a center such as this shelter, because without cooperation and communication, the best resources and planning go to waste. Of course, honesty is one the core principle to the ethical foundations of the shelter. Honesty is necessary to analyze the growth of the victims and their recovery. Honesty is also key in the staff interactions with the clients and the management interactions with everyone on the premises.
The vision for the organization is a two-fold vision. Firstly, the short-term goal for the shelter is to provide a safe, secure, and secluded location to the victims of domestic violence and abuse. Generally, victims of abuse and domestic violence go through a period of shock where they have to learn how to relate to 'normal' life once again. After that period, through counseling and therapy, they are ready to start taking small steps to becoming independent and self-sufficient. Secondly, the long-term goal for the shelter is to provide the resources for jobs, skills training, and education; anything that is necessary to give the women a way to support themselves and their families independently. Once a program recipient has proved that they can successfully be on their own, they are transitioned to safe housing and become responsible for their own family and choices.
The social responsibilities of running a shelter have tremendous impact on all of those accepted into the program and the community at large. Statistically, 1 in 5 women will be abused in some fashion during their lifetime. Also, children that witness abuse are 40% more likely to have behavioral issues during their development. (ABA 2009) With many similar statistics across the racial spectrum and nationally as a whole, a domestic violence shelter provides an important and much underrated service in the community. All of the staff understands that their goal is to impact one life at a time. Once just one person starts making better choices, it sets off a chain reaction to others to make better choices. Let's assume a family of a mother and two children. The mother starts making better choices, which leads to the children learning from the example being given to them and making better choices themselves.
When a shelter is not run properly, money is wasted, and clients that potentially could be accepted have to be turned away, which in turn creates potential danger for a woman and/or child because they have no where safe to go. A majority of shelters receive funding through government grants and other public service grants, and efficiency allows the shelter to serve the most people and create the most good.
Training programs for the staff are also essential. As management, our philosophy is that all staff needs to be aware of the ethics of our business and the vision that the shelter has as a pilot for social change. When an institution that is dedicated to bettering the lives of those affected by violence is running correctly, everyone on staff knows how to handle situations such as emotional breakdowns and behavioral problems. Of course, part of the training is done through weekly meetings run by the staff psychologist, along with a mental health practitioner that is available on call to all the clients. The weakness to the training program in place is that sometimes a weekly session can't encompass all of the changes and situations that occur during the week, but as long as the staff put their effort to being productive and teaching each other, everyone else benefits from the knowledge put into practice.
Finally, the most affirmed moral philosophy to the successful function of this shelter is utilitarian theory. Basic utilitarian theory is a moral principle that holds that the morally right course of action in any situation is the one that produces the greatest balance of benefits over harms for everyone affected. So long as a course of action produces maximum benefits for everyone, utilitarianism does not care whether the benefits are produced by lies, manipulation, or coercion. (Mill 1957) While as management we cannot condone lies, manipulation, or coercion, when having to deal with the perpetrators of the abuse we do use all three methods to deter any contact between them and the victim. While it may seem hypocritical or a possible double standard, when applying utilitarian ethics to the business principles of the shelter, the greater good is served without moral conflict. As John Stuart Mill, a famous utilitarian once wrote: "The happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not...(one's) own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator."
In this increasingly violent society, utilitarianism is a powerful reminder that morality call us to look beyond the self to the good of all. (Anonymous 2010) Overall, that is the mission of the Shrinking Violet Women's Shelter. The social responsibilities of such an establishment in a community have many ramifications and the most important and effective philosophy to complete all the facets of the vision for their purpose is to adapt a utilitarian ethic for the workplace and the staff. The biggest criticism of utilitarianism is that it doesn't really take into account considerations of justice. For example, the Nazis claimed that other people must follow their rule as they were a mentally superior race. They truly believed that the greater good would be served by having the entire world serve beneath their rule. Well, history definitely shows us the injustice of those claims, but under utilitarianism, if they were able to prove that their rule brought the greatest good to the greatest amount of people, then their government would be morally justified by utilitarianism, in spite of its injustice.
Now in the case of a socially necessary service, such as a battered woman's shelter, any means necessary to achieve the greater good are both morally and ethically justified. There are some groups that go further and actually intervene in domestic violence situations and remove the victims with or without consent, acting under the utilitarian principles of a greater good, claiming to have saved them from further victimization and possibly murder. While there are many statistics that support such claims, the only morally justifiable grounds for such aggressive applications is utilitarianism. So with these examples, one can easily understand how utilitarianism is very easy to misjudge and misuse. However, with the correct application, this particular business benefits from such an ethical viewpoint and creates hope and good for many, not just a chosen few. While utilitarianism is currently a very popular ethical theory, there are some difficulties in relying on it as a sole method for moral decision-making. First, the utilitarian calculation requires that we assign values to the benefits and harms resulting from our actions and compare them with the benefits and harms that might result from other actions. But it's often difficult, if not impossible, to measure and compare the values of certain benefits and costs. How do we go about assigning a value to life or to art? And how do we go about comparing the value of money with, for example, the value of life, the value of time, or the value of human dignity? Moreover, can we ever be really certain about all of the consequences of our actions? Our ability to measure and to predict the benefits and harms resulting from a course of action or a moral rule is dubious, to say the least. While utilitarianism is currently a very popular ethical theory, there are some challenges when using this ethical system for moral decision-making. First, the utilitarian calculation requires that we assign values to the benefits and harms resulting from our actions and compare them with the benefits and harms that might result from other actions. However, it can be very hard to assign value to abstract concepts. How do we go about assigning a value to life or to what once existed? And how do we go about comparing the value of money with, for example, the value of life, the value of time, or the value of human dignity? Moreover, how can you really measure or value all of the consequences of our actions? Our ability to measure and to predict the benefits and harms resulting from a course of action or a moral rule is dubious, to say the least. Regardless of how dubious one can argue against this particular ethical theory, for the kind of business and moral responsibilities that are encompassed by the women's shelter, a utilitarian perspective is the best and most practiced form of business ethics to date.