CA Legislators Vote to Protect Pets from Domestic Violence but Deny Services to Male DV Victims

By Michael McCormick and Glenn Sacks

It would be difficult to make California’s controversial domestic violence policies more irrational and unfair to men, but Senator Sheila Kuehl (D–Santa Monica) is trying. California law has long excluded men and their children from receiving state–funded DV services, even though research demonstrates that a third of domestic violence–related injuries are incurred by heterosexual males.

The legislature reiterated this exclusion last fall by passing AB 2051, which references services for “battered women” 31 times yet never once mentions “male victims,” “men,” or even simply “victims.” While California funds over 100 domestic violence shelters for women, there are only two facilities in the state which even accept male victims, and both of them are in remote areas.

Recently Kuehl and the California Senate Judiciary Committee took the state’s DV policies to a new level of absurdity by passing a law to address the issue of domestic violence and…pets!

Kuehl’s SB 353 amends Section 6320 of the Family Code so that women claiming domestic abuse can more easily gain custody of the family’s pets. The bill also allows women to obtain restraining orders which prevent alleged abusers from having contact with their pets.

While legislators focus on protecting dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters from being exposed to domestic violence, they’ve failed to offer any services to men. Yet in domestic battles women often employ the element of surprise and weapons to compensate for men’s greater strength.

The National Institute of Mental Health funded and oversaw two of the largest studies of domestic violence ever conducted, both of which found equal rates of abuse between husbands and wives. Professor Martin S. Fiebert of California State University, Long Beach maintains an online bibliography summarizing nearly 200 academic studies that conclude that women are as physically aggressive in their intimate relationships as men. An analysis of 552 domestic violence studies published in the Psychological Bulletin found that 38 percent of the physical injuries in heterosexual domestic assaults are suffered by men.

California’s exclusionary DV policies have aroused considerable opposition from domestic violence researchers and treatment providers. Last May, more than 50 of these authorities signed a letter to the Legislature opposing AB 2051. They stated:

“The data is without question–domestic violence affects both men and women. The politicization of this issue must stop and services must be provided to all children and their parent victims.”

SB 353 also aggravates the California restraining order problem. The bill creates a new crime–violating a restraining order for a pet!

According to the Attorney General’s office, there are a quarter of a million domestic violence–related restraining orders currently active in California–one for every 50 adult males in the state. While restraining orders can be a useful tool to help protect battered women, they are often misused. The Family Law News, the official publication of the State Bar of California Family Law Section, recently explained:

“Protective orders are increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side jockey for an advantage in child custody…[the orders are] almost routinely issued by the court in family law proceedings even when there is relatively meager evidence and usually without notice to the restrained person.”

These orders often do not even involve an allegation of violence–according to the Judicial Council of California, the “abuse” needed to get a restraining order can be “spoken” or “written.”

Restraining orders boot men out of their homes, cut them off from their children and forbid them many routine behaviors. Men are being arrested for violating their orders by such acts as: returning their children’s phone calls; going to their children’s school or athletic events; sending their kids birthday cards; or accidentally running into them at the park or the mall. Under SB 353, men will be arrested if they have contact with their dogs or cats!

California has a serious problem in the way it handles domestic violence. Instead of addressing these issues, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 353. Were the Senators able to keep a straight face as they voted?