Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Court Rules Domestic Violence Programs Must Be Open to Men
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
State laws funding domestic violence programs that offer services only to women and their children, but not to men, are unconstitutional, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Holding that such gender-based classifications violate equal protection because male victims of domestic violence are similarly situated to female victims for the programs’ purposes, and because no compelling state interest supported the different classifications, the court reformed portions of the state’s Health and Safety Code and its Penal Code to invalidate the exemption of males and extend benefits to them.
However, the court rejected a similar challenge to funding for alternative sentencing and community treatment programs for incarcerated mothers, concluding that men and women are not similarly situated for the purposes of those programs.
Four men and the daughter of one of them filed suit in 2007 challenging funding for domestic violence programs under Health and Safety Code Sec. 124250 and Penal Code Sec. 13823.15, and funding for programs for inmate mothers under the Pregnant and Parenting Women’s Alternative Sentencing Program Act and Penal Code Sec. 3410, in their respective capacities as victims of domestic violence and as taxpayers.
Health and Safety Code Sec. 124250 provides a comprehensive shelter-based grant program to battered women’s shelters that provide emergency shelter to women and their children, transitional housing, legal and other representation, and other support services.
Penal Code Sec. 13823.15 provides financial and technical assistance to local domestic violence centers in implementing 24-hour crisis hotlines, counseling, emergency “safe” homes or shelters, emergency services, counseling, and advocacy, with priority given to “emergency shelter programs and ‘safe’ homes for victims of domestic violence and their children.”
The Pregnant and Parenting Women’s Alternative Sentencing Program Act funds community based facilities allowing incarcerated mothers to reside with their children for programs designed to reduce drug use and recidivism, while Penal Code Sec. 3410 and related statutes provide for community treatment programs for women inmates sentenced to state prison who have one or more children under age six.
The plaintiffs claimed that gender-based classifications in the statutes were unnecessary and did not withstand strict scrutiny because gender-neutral alternatives were available, but Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly found that the plaintiffs failed to show that men were similarly situated to women for purposes of the statutory schemes.
Concluding that legislative findings indicated that the problem of domestic violence against females was increasing and that existing services were underfunded and certain areas underserved, Connelly found that women were more likely to be victims and to sustain severe injuries, and that the plaintiffs had failed to show a similarly severe unmet need for male victims.
He also opined that the plaintiffs failed to establish that prison fathers were similarly situated to prison mothers, noting data showing that women were more likely than men to be caretakers of young children, and that other approaches, such as extended visitation, were more appropriate for men.
On appeal, Justice Fred K. Morrison agreed with Connelly’s conclusion as to programs for inmate mothers, but rejected Connelly’s opinion that men did not face a need similar to women for access to anti-domestic violence programs, noting that the trial court had recognized that men experience “significant levels” of domestic violence as victims.
“As plaintiffs argue, this analysis improperly views equal protection rights as group rights, rather than individual rights, and permits discrimination simply because fewer men than women are affected,” he wrote.
Commenting that the state’s argument amounted to administrative convenience, “an inadequate state interest under a strict scrutiny analysis,” Morrison concluded that the exclusion of men from the programs was unconstitutional.
However, rather than invalidating the statutory provisions, the jurist agreed with the parties that revising the provisions to allow men to participate in domestic violence programs would more clearly further the Legislature’s intent.
Morrison further noted that the court’s opinion did not require that 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,” he said.
Representatives of the Attorney General’s office could not be reached for comment, but plaintiffs’ counsel Marc J. Angelucci of the Men’s Legal Center in San Diego told the MetNews that the court’s decision with respect to access to domestic violence programs was “a big step in the right direction.”
Angelucci said that he expected to seek review by the California Supreme Court of the portion of the opinion with respect to inmate programs, but he commented that the domestic violence program portion of the opinion sent a message that male victims of domestic violence “deserve the same equal dignity” as female victims.
He added that he also expected to file further suits against the state and in Los Angeles County, accusing the latter of being the “worst” in the state in terms of providing support services to male victims of domestic violence.
Justices Vance W. Raye and Tani Cantil Sakauye joined Morrison in his opinion.
The case is Woods v. Shewry, C056072.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company