October Surprise

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Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2008 -- California Leads the Way

The saying “As goes California, so goes the Nation,” never has been more true than for Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2008. On October 14, the California courts led the nation in bringing public awareness to a previously hidden Domestic Violence issue -- that of battered men -- and subsequently ruled that battered men deserve equal protection under the law.

Facing squarely the reality of Domestic Violence against men, the California Court of Appeals ruled that: “We find the gender-based classifications in the challenged statutes that provide programs for victims of domestic violence violate equal protection. We find male victims of domestic violence are similarly situated to female victims for purposes of the statutory programs and no compelling state interest justifies the gender classification. We reform the affected statutes by invalidating the exemption of males and extending the statutory benefits to men, whom the Legislature improperly excluded.” (page 2). (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/C056072.PDF).

The California court ruling was based, in part, on empirical research undertaken by hundreds of social scientists who have helped to provide “the rest of the story.” This research has demonstrated that both men and women initiate Domestic Violence at roughly equal rates with some recent studies suggesting that the initiation rates for girls and women may be increasing. Furthermore, approximately 40% of the physically harmed victims of Domestic Violence are men (www.mediaradar.org).

The implications of the California Appellate Court ruling are clear, compelling, and require a fundamental revision of all State and Federal Domestic Violence legislation to fully recognize the need for equal treatment of battered men under the law. It is particularly important to revise the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and replace it with a Domestic Violence Act that stands in compliance with the California court ruling. By its name alone, the Violence Against Women Act now is both Unconstitutional and scientifically misleading.

Hopefully, the long-term impact of the California ruling will be to raise public and political awareness to the reality that Domestic Violence truly is an equal opportunity affliction. Since the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden both is the father of VAWA and a self-defined Constitutional scholar, let us hope that he will take advantage of the closing days of the campaign to propose a revision to VAWA along the lines of the California Appellate Court ruling. Voters should be listening for such a proposed revision.

Such an action also would be in the spirit of the words of Presidential candidate Sen. Obama* that: “…we must fight to bring domestic violence out of the darkness of isolation and back into the light of justice…” On October 14, 2008 the California courts ruled that justice must serve and protect both men and women.

May it continue to hold that: “As goes California, so goes the Nation.”

* Circulated in a press release by NOW (National Organization For Women) PACs on 10/16/08.

©2008, Gordon E. Finley

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Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Florida International University in Miami.

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