Domestic abuse laws must be gender neutral

October 16, 2008 6:54:38 PM PDT
A California court ruling addresses a problem we do not hear much about when it comes to domestic violence. Shelters now must offer male victims of domestic violence the same help and protection they offer women.

Dave Woods is the face behind the lawsuit that is literally opening doors for battered men at domestic violence shelters in California. The Third District Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, saying a state funded facility violated his rights when it turned him and his daughter away three times.

"I'm glad that at least the way it seems right now at this moment, there are men out there who are in similar situations to mine that don't have to go through what I did," said Woods.

While the court said access to programs had to be equal, the actual services do not. And therein lies the problem that will likely keep this legal battle going for years.

An agency, for example, could maintain a battered women's shelter, but give hotel vouchers to men. The National Coalition for Free Men, which is leading the charge in this lawsuit, does not like that, but it is better than nothing.

The group also does not like that brochures are geared towards women.

"These programs will often still reach out to victims in a gender-specific manner, only referring to them as women and that doesn't help the male victims come forward," said Marc Angelucci, attorney for the National Coalition for Free Men. "This is really going to take a long time and more lawsuits to change."

Most California shelters have started helping men, but admit services are still far from equal. Just 10 percent of those seeking help are men.

"When 90 percent of the people coming for help are women, that's where we really have to put our resources while continuing to make sure that the men are getting the services they need," said shelter director Beth Hassett.

Woods has other battles to fight. The former Marine, whose injury is not related to domestic violence, is trying to educate people about battered men.

"It does happen. If it can happen to me, if it can happen to big strong Dave, it can happen to anyone."


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