What does Institutional Responsibility Look Like?

What does Institutional Responsibility Look Like? November 12, 2015

A Lesson from the Major League Baseball’s New Domestic and Sexual Violence Policy

by Samar Kaukab

notepad on a tableThere’s been much talk recently about the responsibility of communities and institutions (schools, organizations, community-based organizations, etc.) when someone among its ranks is accused of domestic or sexual violence. We often hear: “Let the legal system play out…innocent until proven guilty…This is not our job but law enforcement’s,” and so on.

To what end does this passive approach take us when it comes to these particular issues? From my perspective and the perspective of many others who professionally work in this area, the above approach results in the following:

  1. An unconscionable amount of victim blaming that perpetuates an environment in which victims are not safe to come forward with their stories
  2. Our institutions, schools, and communities recusing themselves from any responsibility to take action

All of this, while an accused perpetrator is treated the same as he ever was for all practical and perception based purposes.

To to the contrary, here, Major League Baseball’s updated policy as it relates to domestic violence and sexual assault (as of this past August) will be put to the test. What’s important to note are a few things:

First, what’s promising about the policy is that the MLB policy is proactive. Meaning, a guilty verdict or plea isn’t required for the commissioner to act. The commissioner and the three-person arbitration panel can act without or before a legal proceeding occurs.

Why is that important? Because we all know the prosecution rate of the crimes of domestic abuse and sexual assault are jarringly and unjustly low in the American legal system. This allows the MLB to act bypassing the nonsense notion of let’s wait and see and “let the justice system decide.”

*** Our communities, schools, and institutions should take note. ***

Second, unlike the NFL, which gives commissioner Roger Goodell power over discipline and arbitration, MLB has established a three-person arbitration panel that consists of a representative from league, a representative from the players association, and an “independent arbitrator” to oversee appeals of sanctions. There is no minimum or maximum sanction.

Third, the league has also established a mandatory education program for all MLB clubs, majors and minors, and a 24-hour helpline in both English and Spanish that is available for players and families who need assistance or have questions. MLB has also said that it will provide perpetrators with a treatment plan, including but not limited to possible counseling sessions.

This isn’t a perfect system by any means but it is *far* better than what other sports leagues propose. And, I will say it is far better than what I see happening in our American Muslim communities, where pursuing justice and being morally upstanding is an actual communal and individual obligation.

If the MLB can make progress, so can we.

Samar Kaukab is executive director of Arete at University of Chicago and a board member of HEART Women & Girls.

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