CA Court: Domestic Violence Programs Must Serve Men, But Not with Identical Services

In mid-October, California’s 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled in Woods vs. Shewry that state-funded domestic violence programs must provide services to male as well as female victims. While “men’s rights” groups hailed the ruling, a closer look shows that it supports the practices that most shelters and domestic violence agencies use today, because the Court explicitly recognized that most victims of domestic violence are women, and that women tend to suffer more serious injuries. Thus, it allowed programs to provide different services to male and female victims.

The three-justice panel said the state’s domestic violence grant making should be gender-neutral and support domestic violence services for victims without regard to gender. But the Court ruled that programs are not required to provide “identical” services to male victims.

The decision says, in part: “In reforming the statutes that provide funding for domestic violence programs to be gender-neutral, we do not require that such programs offer identical services to men and women. Given the noted disparity in the number of women needing services and the greater severity of their injuries, it may be appropriate to provide more and different services to battered women and their children.”

The Justices noted that they have no evidence that any state programs do not currently offer services to men, and could only presume that 15 percent do not, based on a statement put in evidence that 85 percent of programs in the state offer services to men.

California awards $22 million to more than 100 domestic violence programs each year. The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV) notes that the ruling supports its mission, as well as that of its member agencies, to serve all victims of domestic violence, and that most programs have long-standing policies to provide male victims with emergency hotline assistance, service referrals, hotel vouchers, transportation and other needed services.

It says in a statement: “Since the majority of domestic violence victims seeking services are women who have been abused by men, the presence of men in shelter facilities could pose yet another barrier to victims obtaining the help they need. CPEDV is pleased that the Court chose to uphold shelters’ rights to protect the privacy and safety of their residents.”

“In many ways, this ruling is an affirmation of what violence prevention and victim services programs in California and across the country already do,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. “We work to stop domestic and sexual violence in all its forms, and serve all the victims who need help. But there is no question that women are the majority of victims who need services.”

Four men and the daughter of one of them filed the lawsuit, challenging state funding for domestic violence programs that allegedly discriminate on the basis of gender. A Superior Court judge in Sacramento dismissed the case because, he found, the plaintiffs had failed to establish that there was an unmet need for services for men in the same way the legislature had established an unmet need for services for women when it adopted the statutes. An appeals court judge agreed but, on further appeal, the 3rd District Court of Appeals issued its October ruling.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals ruling is available on CPEDV’s website, here.

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