Senate Bill 1618 provides for a $10 raise in
the California marriage license fee. The purpose of the bill,
which recently passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, is
to augment existing funding for domestic violence programs and
to set aside extra funds for "underserved" populations of
domestic violence victims.
The bill's sponsor, State Senator Sheila
Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), explains that the underserved
populations who are the bill's intended beneficiaries are abused
women in rural areas and abused immigrant women who face
linguistic and cultural barriers when seeking help.
These goals are admirable. However, they
ignore the needs of our state's largest underserved
population--male victims of domestic violence.
County domestic violence programs, which will
receive and disburse the funds provided by SB 1618, have been
indifferent at best towards male victims. For example, Los
Angeles County funds two dozen shelters for abused women, but
only one shelter accepts male victims, and it is in Lancaster,
80 miles from downtown Los Angeles. San Diego County has only
one domestic violence shelter which is willing to consider
housing a male victim, and abused men are often referred to
homeless shelters--not suitable places for a victimized father
to take his children.
According to the US Department of Justice's
Report on the National Violence Against Women Survey, there are
over 830,000 male victims of domestic violence every year in the
United States. Numerous studies--many of them conducted by some
of the earliest advocates for battered women--have repeatedly
found that women are at least as likely as men to initiate and
engage in domestic violence. These include the work of domestic
violence researchers Richard Gelles, Murray Straus, and Susan
Steinmetz, authors of Behind Closed Doors, the influential and
ground-breaking study of domestic violence against women.
As Gelles noted in "The Missing Persons of
Domestic Violence: Male Victims" (The Women's Quarterly, Fall
1999), male victims are largely unknown to the public in part
because men are extremely hesitant to report their abuse to
authorities or to seek help. Many often do not seek police
intervention because they fear that their female partners will
successfully accuse them of being the actual perpetrators.
Gelles also believes that male victims
generally do not seek out shelters because of their children. He
notes that "...battered men who flee their attackers find that
the act of fleeing results in the men losing physical and even
legal custody of their children...men who retain their children
in order to try to protect them from abusive mothers often find
themselves arrested for ‘child kidnaping.' "
Kuehl dismisses the existence of male
victims, saying "the attention given to it is exaggerated.
Studies with high numbers of male victims get them because they
classify women who hit only in self-defense as abusers."
According to Gelles, however, the
"self-defense" argument has been obsolete since 1986, when he
and Straus revamped their studies to ask who initiated the
violence, thereby screening out violence committed in
self-defense. Those studies and others have continued to show
equal numbers of male and female aggressors, and indicate that
women often compensate for their smaller size by employing
weapons and the element of surprise.
Marc Angelucci, chairman of the Los Angeles
chapter of Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE), points out that
Kuehl's bill, which was recently endorsed by the Los Angeles
Domestic Violence Council, is discriminatory because "men pay
half or more of those marriage license fees, and they're
entitled to share in all of the services that come with them,
including outreach, which barely exists for male victims."
Kuehl blames the lack of services for male
victims of domestic violence on "the community of men" itself.
She contends that just as the battered women's shelter movement
began as a grass roots movement which later came to receive
substantial government funding, services for men should come
only when men create similar organizations. While Kuehl
acknowledges that men as a whole have been very supportive of
assistance for abused women, she says:
"What advocates for male victims of domestic
violence want to do is to take money from a low-resourced
community--women--and give it to services for a well-funded
community--men. If men want services for abused men, they need
to put it together themselves."
Kuehl's indifference understandably angers
victims' advocates like Angelucci. He says:
"It's a pretty incredible attitude for a
government official to take. It's as if a cop suspects that a
crime is being committed next door and says ‘well, I'm not going
to go looking for the victim or try to stop the crime, but if
the victim wants to come to me for help, I'll consider looking
into finding some.' Is this the way to combat a widespread and
damaging social problem?"
This column first appeared in the
Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily