While I was a student at UCLA law school, my close friend was assaulted by his wife whenever she drank. She would hit him, kick him, throw broken glass at him and even try to stab him. He was bigger than her, but he refused to hit back and he knew he would probably be arrested if he did. So he just took it. And his children witnessed everything.
One night it was so bad that he asked for help. I was a busy student with a roommate, exams and a Disability Law Society that I founded. I was also not a professional. So I called several hotlines. Then I learned that of at least 25 taxpayer-funded shelters, none would help a man–even with counseling or a hotel arrangement–except Valley Oasis in Lancaster, which was too far away.
This upset me so much that I decided to research it further. I learned that men were traveling hundreds of miles to Valley Oasis because nobody else would help them, that Valley Oasis had to fight politically to help men, and that men were being denied help for political and ideological reasons. I also learned how significant but the problem was.
Men are less likely than women to report the violence to police or on crime surveys (which emphasize crime-based terminology). However, sociological (behavior-based) surveys consistently show women initiate domestic violence as often as men, that they are more likely to use weapons, and that 38 percent of injured victims are men. Professor Martin Fiebert of California State University maintains a bibliography that summarizes this data at www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm.
Some of the studies also asked about context and motives and found self-defense only explained 10 percent of the violence by women and 15 percent of the violence by men. Nonetheless, male victims were publicly seen as an oddball category with virtually no outreach or education for them. California Health and Safety Code Section 124250 excluded men from services.
After graduating, I founded the Los Angeles chapter of the National Coalition of Free Men, a nonprofit organization that looks at how sex discrimination affects men and boys.
Eventually I began filing equal-protection lawsuits to end this discrimination. One of them, filed on behalf of four battered men and one of their daughters, is now pending before the Sacramento Superior Court and was the subject of two recent stories in the Capitol Weekly. In those stories, it was disturbing for me to read some people downplayed male victims due to a lower average injury rate. That does not justify excluding them and their children from outreach and services. Should we excluded women from job safety laws because 92 percent of job deaths happen to men? And, in fact, 38 percent of injured victims are men. Don’t all victims deserve services … period?
Studies show that children who witness the violence they are emotionally damaged regardless of whether injuries occur, and it increases their chances of committing the same violence as adults. Domestic violence is an intergenerational cycle. We cannot stop that cycle by ignoring any amount of the violence. We must follow the example of virtually every other state by changing our domestic violence laws to be gender-inclusive, so that all victims and their children receive services. As the late Dear Abby said, domestic violence is a human problem, not a gender problem.