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Victory! CA Appellate Court Says Excluding Men from Domestic Violence Programs is Unconstitutional

October 14th, 2008 by Glenn Sacks, MA for Fathers & Families

California attorney Marc Angelucci scored a tremendous victory today as the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled that California’s exclusion of men from domestic violence services violates men’s constitutional equal protection rights.

The taxpayer lawsuit — Woods. v. Shewry — was initially filed in 2005 by four male victims of domestic violence.

In 2007, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly dismissed the case, ruling that men are not entitled to equal protection regarding domestic violence because they statistically are not similarly situated with women.

Today the Court of Appeal reversed that decision and held:

The gender classifications in Health and Safety Code section 124250 and Penal Code section 13823.15, that provide state funding of domestic violence programs that offer services only to women and their children, but not to men, violate equal protection.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Marc E. Angelucci (pictured above left), said:

We’ve been through the daisy wheel of judicial activism on this issue. Now the courts have finally addressed the injustice, but the struggle is not over. Many taxpayer-funded programs, especially in Los Angeles, still deny men services such as counseling, advocacy, shelter or hotel vouchers, which is endangering their children.

Men pay at least half of the taxes that fund these programs and they should be entitled to services regardless of sex. I have seen the damage this does to men and kids and I will never stop fighting to end it, even if it means filing more lawsuits.

Numerous experts submitted sworn declarations supporting the plaintiffs and explaining that Domestic Violence against men is a serious but hidden problem. Children are being emotionally harmed as witnesses of the violence while their fathers are unable to get help.

Experts in the Case explained that although men report it less than women, empirical survey data consistently shows women are at least as violent as men in relationships, and that men suffer one-third of injuries.

This research is listed below. The Court’s Opinion can be read at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/C056072.PDF.

Angelucci did fantastic work in this case–I recommend all readers send him a congratulatory email by clicking here.

The central plaintiff in the case was David Woods. The plight of David and his daughter Maegan is detailed in Marc’s column Domestic Violence Lawsuit Will Help Secure Services for All Abuse Victims (Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Francisco Daily Journal, 12/28/05), which I co-authored. We wrote:

At the age of 11, Maegan tried to stop a domestic dispute between her parents. She soon found herself staring down the barrel of her father’s shotgun. She watched helplessly as the trigger was pulled. She is only alive today because the gun didn’t fire–the safety was on.

Maegan was abused and witnessed domestic violence in her home for most of her childhood. By age seven there had been knife attacks, punches, kicks, and more. It was hard to leave–the abuser was the one who earned the money, and the victim was unable to work because of a disability. On numerous occasions they looked for help to escape the abuse but were refused. Why?

Because in Maegan’s family, the abused spouse was her father, and the battering and child abuse were perpetrated by her mother.

The California Battered Women Protection Act of 1994, codified in Health & Safety Codes Section 124250, et. seq., created funding for domestic violence shelter-based services. However, by defining domestic violence as something only experienced by women, the statutes exclude male victims from receiving state-funded domestic violence services, including shelter, hotel arrangements, counseling and legal services.

Maegan, now 21, and her father, David Woods, are the lead plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the State of California and numerous state agencies and state-funded domestic violence service providers. Beginning in the mid-1980s, David was violently attacked on numerous occasions by his wife Ruth, who suffers from a bi-polar disorder which, in her case, creates a propensity toward violence.

On several occasions David decided that he and Maegan should get out of the house to escape Ruth’s violence. However, with his disabling condition and inability to work, David had no money to provide for himself and his daughter. Numerous times he contacted a Sacramento domestic violence agency he had heard of in the media, WEAVE, but they always told him “we don’t help men,” and never offered him a referral to another facility. David tried churches and various programs, but all they could offer for men were homeless shelters with waiting lists. He found nothing for abused men and their children. David gave up and sank into a heavy depression.

By February 2003, Maegan began telling her father to find a place of safety from Ruth’s violence. He again called WEAVE and again was told “we don’t help men.” Maegan, then 18, became so frustrated watching David being abused that she called WEAVE herself and insisted they help her father. According to Maegan, WEAVE said they do not help men, and that men are the perpetrators of domestic violence, not the victims.

That year Ruth finally began to seek professional help for her problems. David, loyal and a firm believer in his marriage vows, stuck by her. In January 2004, the two appeared together on the NBC’s John Walsh Show and discussed Ruth’s violence.

Domestic violence policies based on the woman good/man bad model kept David trapped in his violent marriage in a number of ways. The biggest reason David didn’t leave Ruth was Maegan. She was frequently the target of Ruth’s attacks, particularly when David wasn’t around to protect her and take Ruth’s blows.

Domestic violence researcher Richard Gelles, whose groundbreaking work on domestic violence in the late 1970s was instrumental in bringing the issue to public consciousness, explains that current policies often trap abused fathers like David. They can’t leave their wives because this would leave their children unprotected in the hands of an abuser. If they simply take their children, they can be arrested for kidnapping. Moreover, they would probably lose custody of their children in the divorce anyway, again leaving their children in harm’s way.

These cases often have tragic results. In the highly-publicized Socorro Caro murder case, Socorro often abused her husband Xavier, a prominent Northridge, California rheumatologist, and once assaulted him so badly he had to have surgery to regain his sight in one eye. Trapped and not knowing what to do or where to go, Xavier endured the abuse, once telling his wife “one day you are going to do something that cannot be undone.” A short time later Socorro shot and killed three of their four children. Their baby survived only because Socorro ran out of bullets. She was later convicted and sentenced to death for the murders.

While police intervention often works for abused women, abused men understandably fear that once the police are involved, their wives will accuse them of being the abuser and it is they who will be believed. Draconian arrest policies often direct police to make an arrest, and police are often pressured to arrest the man.

The anti-male bias of police policies was evident in the Woods case. During the 1995 shotgun incident, Ruth called the police after David wrestled the shotgun away from her. Maegan yelled to her mom, “Tell the truth!” and Ruth told the police she wanted them to come because she wanted to kill her husband.

Nevertheless, when the police arrived and David opened the door to let them in, the officers immediately grabbed him by the wrist, wrestled him to the ground, and handcuffed him. They only uncuffed him after Maegan told them that it was her mother who had the gun.

Maegan told her story in Abused Man’s Daughter Speaks Out–Maegan Talks About Her Childhood.

[Late note: There have now been several stories about this case in the mainstream media. These include stories in the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, National Post (Canada), and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise (Los Angeles). I suggest readers visit those sites and post supportive comments. Congratulations again to Angelucci for his fantastic work in this case. --GS]

To learn more about domestic violence, Angelucci suggests the following resources:

California State Long Beach Professor Martin Fiebert’s summary of over 200 of the studies in an online bibliography at www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm.

Prof. Linda Kelly, ‘Disabusing the Definition of Domestic Abuse,’ 30 Florida State Law Review 791 (2003) www.law.fsu.edu/journals/lawreview/downloads/304/kelly.pdf.

Prof. Don Dutton, ‘Transforming a flawed policy: A call to revive psychology and science in domestic violence research and practice,’ Aggression and Violent Behavior, (11) 2006, 457-483 www.nfvlrc.org/docs/DuttonCorvo.policypaper.pdf

Harvard Medical School: www.patienteducationcenter.org/aspx/HealthELibrary/HealthETopic.aspx?cid=M0907d

University of New Hampshire: www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2006/may/em_060519male.cfm?type=n

Canadian Government Report: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncfv-cnivf/familyviolence/pdfs/Intimate_Partner.pdf

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