Plaintiff in Suit Against LA DV Shelters is Right to Demand Services for Abused Men

By Glenn Sacks

Ray Blumhorst is a 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound, decorated combat veteran who served on the USS Valley Forge during the Vietnam War’s largest battle, the Tet offensive. Ray Blumhorst is also a battered husband.

Today he walks with a limp–not from war wounds but from one of his ex-wife’s assaults. Blumhorst recently filed a widely reported sex discrimination lawsuit against 10 Los Angeles County Domestic Violence shelters for refusing to accept male victims. He says his ex-wife attacked him by surprise on numerous occasions, once throwing a heavy book stand at him which damaged his knee and put him on crutches. He notes:

"At least in Vietnam I was allowed to defend myself."

Voluminous research shows that men like Blumhorst are not rare. According to the US Department of Justice’s 1998 Report on the National Violence Against Women Survey, men comprise over 35% of all domestic violence victims. California State Long Beach University professor Martin Fiebert has compiled a bibliography which examines 130 scholarly investigations (104 empirical studies and 26 reviews and/or analyses) which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 77,000.

The National Institute of Mental Health funded and oversaw two of the largest studies of domestic violence ever done, in 1979 and 1989, both of which found similar rates of abuse between husbands and wives. Contrary to the claim that women only hit in self-defense, women in both of these studies were as likely as men to initiate the violence. And while many still conceptualize domestic violence as pitting a hulking husband against a terrified wife alone in a kitchen-turned-boxing ring, research shows that abusive women use weapons and the element of surprise to compensate for their smaller size, often with devastating results.

Many local men have reported their abuse to the National Coalition of Free Men Los Angeles, a men’s group which is supporting Blumhorst’s suit. The most difficult cases are those of abused fathers. For example, Ron, a Simi Valley entrepreneur who is living in his own garage in order to get away from his wife’s attacks, won’t leave his violent wife because he does not want to leave his children unprotected in the hands of an abuser. At the same time he knows that if he takes his children he could be arrested for kidnapping, and that the family courts would probably grant his wife custody, again leaving his children in harm’s way.

Such cases sometimes have tragic results. In the highly publicized Socorro Caro murder case, Socorro abused her husband Xavier so badly that he almost lost sight in one eye, and the abuse was allowed to escalate until Socorro murdered three of their four children.

Despite the gravity of the problem, there is little recognition of and services for male victims of domestic violence and their children. While LA County has two dozen shelters for victims of domestic violence, the only shelter which accepts male victims is the Valley Oasis shelter in Lancaster, 80 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Former Oasis director Patricia Overberg, who changed shelter policy in order to accept male domestic violence victims in the late 1980s, believes that LA county’s neglect of male victims is a "human rights issue" and notes that her shelter housed and provided services to both abused women and abused men without incident.

Blumhorst bristles at how he is at times portrayed in the media as a whiner with a gender grudge. He says:

"Domestic violence services are publicly funded with my tax dollars and I want the same treatment and services available to me that any other victim has–nothing more, nothing less."