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02/24/2006 Entry: "Marc Angelucci"

Thanks to Marc Angelucci for sending me the article below [click on more to view]

2006 The Daily Journal Corporation.
All rights reserved.

February 23, 2006

Recognizing Victims of Domestic Violence

By Linda Rapattoni
Daily Journal Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO - A woman stopped by the Gay & Lesbian Center in Los Angeles a couple of days after Christmas frustrated and a little frightened.
A judge had ordered her to attend treatment as a batterer for domestic violence against her partner. She sought services close to her home, but the administrators insisted on placing her with a group for men. She is transgender, identifies as a female and has been living as a woman.
The woman's tale is typical of the kinds of domestic-violence problems lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians face, according to Susan Holt, program manager for family violence services at the center.
Holt and others advocates who work with nonheterosexual groups say they want a bigger voice in how funds are spent on domestic-violence programs. They say they want statutes changed to enable them to seek funding for hot lines and outreach services and for judicial education.
The state funnels nearly $26 million to domestic-violence programs through the governor's Office of Emergency Services and Department of Health Services.
Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, D-Saratoga, introduced Wednesday a bill, AB2051, to address domestic-violence problems of the nonheterosexual community.
"This bill will provide LGBT domestic-violence victims the same services that are available to heterosexual women victims in order to break this horrendous cycle of violence," Cohn said.
Now men's rights groups want to be included in the bill's language, findings and purpose.
Marc Angelucci, a Glendale lawyer with [law firm omitted in email version, shouldn't have even been there], said society virtually ignores the plight of men battered by women.
Angelucci wants Cohn's bill to include data on all male victims and provide hotel rooms for anyone whose gender precludes them from a shelter.
Gays would like the domestic-violence statutes to be gender-neutral. But Angelucci said he wants to reverse the perception only women are victims of domestic violence by including men in the statutes.
Statistics on domestic violence vary but generally show that women batter men at least as frequently as men batter women, according to Martin Fiebert, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, who has studied the issue.
"It is not fair to cover up and exclude heterosexual male victims just because they don't fit a feminist ideology of domestic violence," said Angelucci, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Coalition of Free Men.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Mize, president of the California Judges Association and an experienced family law jurist, said he's willing to hear complaints by same-sex groups but is not convinced they are unique.
"The courts treat domestic violence very, very seriously," said Mize, who teaches domestic-violence courses to other judges. "There are no different standards being taught by any judicial domestic-violence-education courses."
The Centers for Disease Control report about 1.5 million women and more than 800,000 men in the U.S. are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year.
A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health stated that roughly 40 percent of nonheterosexual couples experience domestic violence, roughly the same rate as in the heterosexual community.
Holt says same-sex domestic violence presents unique challenges. The decision by a gay or lesbian victim to relocate out of state for his or her safety raises legal questions, she said.
"It is unclear how other states will respond to the [victim's] status in California as a domestic partner and the legal aspects of property, child custody, spousal and child support," she said.
Equality California, a statewide civil rights and advocacy group for the nonheterosexual community, is sponsoring Cohn's bill.
Steve Hansen, the group's legislative director, said the bill would expand the 12-member advisory boards of the Office of Emergency Services and Department of Health Sciences to include nonheterosexuals. Now, they consist of members of the criminal justice system, the Legislature, health care industry and sexual-assault victims.
Cohn's bill would turn language in domestic-violence statutes gender-neutral and would increase the fee on domestic-partnership registrations to provide training for service providers and informational brochures, he said.
With the state registering 6,000 domestic partnerships a year, a fee would not generate much money to establish shelters, Hansen said. But it would be enough to set up a hot line and provide emergency services, he said.
State law does not permit funding for domestic-violence programs aimed at specific groups, only for the population in general, said Norma Arceo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services.
When Congress recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, it required domestic-violence programs to be gender-neutral and to recognize that men are less likely to report such violence, Angelucci said.
There are 86 domestic-violence shelters for battered women and children in the state, but none is designed for the nonheterosexual community, Holt said. Less than a handful of shelters for battered men exist nationwide, she said.
Angelucci has sued the state challenging the constitutionality of the definition of domestic violence in the Health and Safety Code. The class action filed in Sacramento Superior Court on Oct. 28, 2005, said the code beginning at Section 124250 excludes male victims in its definition of domestic violence, barring them from services. Black v. California, 05CS01530.
Emely Ortiz is lead victim advocate and program manager for the Gay & Lesbian Center's Domestic Violence Project, a new program funded by the Justice Department.
Ortiz cited disadvantages nonheterosexual couples face in a system geared toward heterosexuals. Judges have issued mutual restraining orders against both batterers and victims when they are nonheterosexual, she said. So police arrest both and sometimes place them in the same cell, sparking more violence, she said.
Abusers have gamed the system, seeking restraining orders before their partners do, effectively denying them services abusers already get, Ortiz said. It sends the message that the judge believed the abuser's story, she said.
"There still is a belief that women don't batter women, so when abuse occurs, it tends to be minimized," she said.
Mize contends the same complaints occur in the heterosexual community.
"That's a problem whenever there are allegations on both sides," Mize said. "The court is discouraged from issuing mutual restraining orders and has a burden to find who is the primary aggressor and issue the restraining order against him."
Heterosexual abusers also work the system to their advantage, he said. Judges try to make sense of the pleadings and issue a restraining order after hearing from both sides.
Holt and Rakowski said they don't believe every judge is applying Mize's standards. The state's domestic-partnership law took effect only a year ago, and lawyers are still unsure how to respond.
"This is uncharted territory in some places," Holt said.
For example, the legal status of couples that move to California is "nebulous," said Jennifer Rakowski, associate director of Community United Against Violence in San Francisco.
Nonheterosexual families are trying to separate their assets and their lives through contract law, which applies a different standard from divorce law, she said.
While little research data is available, domestic-violence counselors have noticed the courts send more gay victims to batterer's programs than heterosexuals, Holt said. She believes the courts need to bring in specialists to determine who is the batterer and who the victim.
But specialists are hard to come by, as Roger Coggan, director of legal services for the Gay & Lesbian Center, has learned. He finally turned to Massachusetts to recruit Ortiz and is having trouble hiring an attorney with specialized knowledge in the nonheterosexual community.
Rakowski and Holt said they hope making the statutes gender-neutral will wake up the state to the needs of same-sex couples and lead to specialized training for judges.
"What I'd love to see is for judges to take the time to look at the specifics of family law and criminal law and how it affects same-sex couples, particularly those experiencing domestic violence and recognize there are nuances that play out in court," Rakowski said. "With that information, they can truly hold up that commitment to fairness."

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