Battered men seek equal protection

A group of men who say they were battered and threatened by their wives got their day in court on Friday. The plaintiffs in Woods vs. California say they were denied their constitutionally-mandated equal protection as they sought shelter services and police safeguards.

The case was heard by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly. The suit names the state’s Department of Health Services, the Department of Corrections and the Office of Emergency Services. It does not seek any damages, but instead is meant to force gender neutral law enforcement and services across key sections of the state’s government, health and penal codes.

After the two hour hearing, Connelly gave both sides until March 2 to reply to several issues that came up. He is asking the plaintiffs’ attorney, Marc Angelucci, to submit a supplemental brief addressing the plaintiffs’ legal right to bring suit, as well as answer some other technical questions.

Plaintiff Ray Blumhorst said that his case began several years ago when his marriage was falling apart. His wife hit him with a bookstand when he wasn’t looking, he said, putting him on crutches and leaving him with a slight-but-permanent limp. Days later, when the police got involved, he was the one who got arrested, even though he’d never lifted a finger against his wife.

The reason, he said, is that as a 6’1″, 210-pound veteran, he looked far more intimidating than his average-sized wife. Sure he might have won a wrestling match against her, he said, but she was the one initiating violence–and increasingly using weapons.

“We’re not saying there aren’t a lot big, bad, abusive men out there,” Blumhorst said. “But there has been a very biased picture in the media and the law.”

Blumhorst said he sought shelter services for his own safety, but was repeatedly denied by shelters that received state funds but serve only women. He later sought services again, this time in order to prove his point for a legal case; that case was thrown out in March 2005 by the Second District Court of Appeals, which ruled he lacked the legal standing to file a suit.

In October, 2005, he joined with three other plaintiffs who claim similar experiences. Attorney Marc Angelucci said the four are merely seeking equal protection under the law–and this does not necessarily mean that women’s shelters be opened wholesale to men.

The problem, he said, is that there is a severe disparity in the services. Over 100 women’s shelters receive state money, while there are only three shelters in California that accept men. This includes one that only serves men, another that serves both in segregated facilities, and a third that will put men up in a hotel. Both of the facilities that will actually house men are in very rural areas: Lancaster and Yreka.

“Men travel hundreds of miles because no one else will take them,” Angelucci said.

Angelucci said that they nearly had a legislative solution to some of these problems last year. AB 2051 by Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, D-Saratoga, called for several changes in the law to protect the rights of the gay and lesbian community. This included sections relating to shelters and domestic violence enforcement by police. At first these sections written to be gender-neutral, Angelucci said, but after lobbying by feminist groups, they were amended to protect gays and lesbians but not straight men. This is the version signed into law on September 30.

The suit also seeks other types of gender equality, such as visitation rights for male prisoners that are on par with those held by female prisoners. Angelucci said that while much has been made of mothers in prison, there is actually a far larger number of fathers in prison, due to the fact that the vast majority of prisoners are men.

Several groups have been working to create more gender parity in domestic violence protection and other laws. Among these are the Boston-based Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting (RADAR). RADAR founder Mark Rosenthal said that Blumhorst’s original case had the potential to create damaging precendent by barring “tester” cases. These are cases where a person “tests” fairness of laws–in Blumhorst’s case, testing his ability to get shelter services long after he actually needed them.

However, groups like RADAR and the National Coalition of Free Men, of which Blumhorst is a member, have been blasted by some feminist groups for alleged right wing politics. Many critics have also noted that the large number of shelters available to women reflect the fruits of a long-term struggle by feminists, which has not been matched by efforts from men.

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