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When He’s Violent to Her, It’s a Felony, When She Stabs Him, It’s a Mental Health Issue

June 30th, 2009 by Glenn Sacks, MA for Fathers & Families

I recently attended the excellent Los Angeles domestic violence conference “From Ideology to Inclusion 2009: New Directions in Domestic Violence Research and Intervention.”

The conference featured many domestic violence dissidents–researchers and clinicians who do not believe that the mainstream domestic violence establishment and its “men as perpetrators/women as victims” conceptual framework is properly serving those involved in family violence.

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

The Court of Appeal held that “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.” To learn more about the lawsuit, click here.

David Woods, a partially-disabled male victim of domestic violence, was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. David spoke of the abuse he suffered at the hands of wife Ruth Woods at the From Ideology to Inclusion 2009. He explained:

We had an incident in February of 1987…This day was about 39 degrees [F], with a driving rain and about a 30 mile-an-hour wind. It was terrible, nasty…We had a fight the night before, before she went to sleep. I worked until 5:00 in the morning, went to bed. I got up around 10:30 in the morning. What woke me was the silence: no kids playing, Saturday morning, “What the hell is going on?” She was gone. The vehicle was still parked in the parking lot; I could look out the window and see it. She’s gone, the kids are gone…

She didn’t come back until morning-afternoon. She’d been out walking. She walked to a location that was three-and-a-half miles from our apartment, and walked back. By the time she got back, our children were the color of those seats: their fingers were blue, their lips were blue, their ears were blue. We had to put them in a warm bath to warm them up; they were hypothermic. I was… I lost my temper. I was pretty pissed off. “What in the hell were you doing? Why?” Seven, eight hours out walking around. The children were soaked; she was soaked. “What in the hell were you doing?”

We fought… We fought for about an hour. She started cutting up vegetables for dinner, and we were still fighting. At some point I said something to the effect, “Are you out of your freakin’ mind?” She turned around, she had a kitchen knife — a serrated vegetable knife, the blade was about seven inches long. She turned around and she stabbed at me.

And as you can tell, I like to wear buttoned-down collars. I tried to block it, but I was surprised. I was off balance; I wasn’t expecting it… I had lost it partially. But the knife hit the collar-stay of my shirt, and it penetrated into the collar, cut the collar, and partially penetrated the little plastic stay in the collar of my shirt. And gave me a little nick here on the collar of my neck.

She reared back her arm and tried to stab me again. And as I moved, tried to block, and let’s just say I had an adrenaline moment, I hit her in the mouth. And I gave her a little fat lip, right here. She dropped the knife. She screamed. She ran to the telephone and called 9-1-1: “My husband is hitting me! I think he’s gonna kill me.”

Well, when she dropped the knife I stood over it. I wouldn’t let her pick it up and put it away. I wouldn’t let her hide the knife. I was gonna say, “See? She tried to stab me.”

Four Sacramento county Sheriff’s deputies vehicles rolled up; there was a total of seven deputies. As I explained to them what happened, he said, “Yeah, that’s fine. Put your hands behind your back.” I said, “No, wait a minute. She tried to stab…there’s the knife. See the knife? She tried to stab…see my [motions toward neck wound] — see?” [Officer:] “Put your hands behind your back. Turn around.” I said, “No. She tried…” And they — five of them — drew their weapons.

And at that time, our daughters — who were 5 and 3 — when she stabbed me, when she tried to stick the knife in my throat, our daughters were in the kitchen with us. My daughters came running out of the back bedroom saying, “Leave my dad alone! Leave Daddy alone! Mamma tried to hit him with a knife. All he did was hit her back so she wouldn’t hurt him.”

One of the deputies was a woman. And she took the children in the bedroom and shut the door. She was back there with them for about 15 minutes, talking with them. In the meantime, the others still insisted that I turn around and put my hands behind my back. They cuffed me, they frisked me. I was standing there in front of my daughters, when they came out of the bedroom.

“Daddy’s cuffed; Daddy’s going to jail.” And the female deputy said, “It’s true. Both of the daughters saw it. She tried to hit him, she tried to stab him with the knife. That’s what happened.”

They took the cuffs off me and said, “Your wife obviously needs help.” During this 15-20 minute period, while she was in the room with the kids, we were talking about my wife: what she did for a living, she was a nurse, she worked for Kaiser Permanente. They said, “If she works for Kaiser, you’ve got health insurance; you’ve got mental health insurance. You need to call the emergency number and get her an appointment”…

Now, isn’t that strange? When she had a fat lip, it was a felony and I was going to jail. But when they finally agreed and realized that she tried to stab me in the neck… it stopped being a crime at that point, it was a mental health issue. [And] it was my responsibility to call and get her an appointment.

The plight of David and his daughter Maegan is detailed in my co-authored column Domestic Violence Lawsuit Will Help Secure Services for All Abuse Victims (Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Francisco Daily Journal, 12/28/05). Maegan told her story in Abused Man’s Daughter Speaks Out–Maegan Talks About Her Childhood. Carol Crabson, Executive Director of the Valley Oasis domestic violence shelter–which has served male victims for 17 years–presented with David, and we’ll also be providing some highlights from her speech in this series.

To read all reports from the Conference, please click here.

From Ideology to Inclusion 2009 featured some of the world’s leading experts on domestic violence, many of whom serve on the Editorial Board of the new peer-reviewed academic journal, Partner Abuse, published by Springer Publishing Company. The conference was presented by the California Alliance for Families & Children and co-sponsored by The Family Violence Treatment & Education Association. Some of you may remember that I also wrote extensively about the 2008 conference–to learn more, click here.

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