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NCFM – Twin Cities and Others

Challenge Minnesota’s Sexist

“Battered Women Act”

 

By Will Hageman

 

The Twin Cities Chapter of the National Coalition of Free Men, R-KIDS of Minnesota (Remember Kids In Divorce Settlements), and the Men’s Defense Association have filed a state court lawsuit to strike down a Minnesota law which allocates public money to assist female victims of domestic violence but denies assistance to males, on the grounds that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against battered men on account of sex.

 

The law, commonly known as the Battered Women Act, was written in 1977. The authors based the law on their belief that domestic violence is always initiated by men, and that the victims are always women.  (Indeed, the authors made it very clear that the law was intended to benefit women only, and to discriminate against men; attempts to make the law gender-neutral were voted down in the Minnesota Legislature.)  In fact, over 140 scholarly studies have shown that women initiate domestic violence about as often as men do, and that nearly as many men as women are battered; many of these studies were conducted by women.  Dr. Martin Fiebert of the Department of Psychology, California State University at Long Beach, has compiled a bibliography of these studies; it is available at www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm

 

The scholarly studies on domestic violence have been available for years, but the Minnesota Legislature has simply ignored them.  The Legislature did amend the law to prohibit discrimination against any battered woman on account of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation, but they did nothing to prohibit discrimination against battered men on account of sex.

 

While men are generally larger and stronger than their partners, women who batter are more likely to use weapons, to strike from behind, and to strike when their partners are asleep, ill, or otherwise less able to defend themselves.  Battered women’s advocates who insist that the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women base their claim on police reports, conveniently ignoring the fact that most battered men are very unlikely to tell police that they have been beaten by women.  Those men who do report being battered by women are rarely taken seriously, are nearly always ridiculed, and are often arrested by police who have been repeatedly “taught” that in any domestic violence incident, the man must be the guilty party.

 

In July 2000, R-KIDS of Minnesota filed a lawsuit challenging the Battered Women Act in federal court; shortly thereafter the Twin Cities Chapter of NCFM and the Men’s Defense Association joined the lawsuit.  The federal courts ruled that we do not have standing to sue in federal court, and they never addressed the constitutionality of the law.

 

Eight members of the National Coalition of Free Men – Twin Cities Chapter, seven members of R-KIDS of Minnesota, and one member of the Men’s Defense Association – a total of three women and thirteen men – are plaintiffs on the new lawsuit.  We contend that the Battered Women Act violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it allocates public funds for programs and services to assist battered women but provides nothing to assist battered men.  We maintain that domestic violence is NOT a gender issue – it is a public health issue.

 

The lawsuit seeks neither to prevent battered women’s shelters from operating with private funding, nor to open battered men’s shelters.  The purpose is to end public funding which produces sex discrimination against men in state government and family courts, and to prompt the Legislature to enact a new, nondiscriminatory law based on the findings and recommendations of the leading experts on domestic violence, such as Suzanne Steinmetz, Murray Straus, Martin Fiebert, Michelle Corrado, and Erin Pizzey.

 

After hearing about the lawsuit, Erin Pizzey, founder of the first battered women’s shelter in England, said “I was aware from the beginning that domestic violence was not a gender issue.  The whole subject of domestic violence was hijacked by the feminist movement, looking for a just cause and also for funding.  This is the first time I have seen any action taken that might, at last, make some real changes.”

 

The lawsuit was filed on June 6, 2003, as Case Number MC-03-9557 on the docket of Hennepin County District Court.  On November 7, Judge John Q. McShane dismissed the lawsuit, first deciding that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue in state court and that he does not have jurisdiction (in direct contradiction to legal precedent), and then claiming that the Battered Women Act does not discriminate against men (in spite of his having just decided that he does not have jurisdiction to make such a determination).  An appeal was filed on December 22, and additional papers were filed on January 23, 2004.  The appeal is Case Number A032045 on the docket of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

 

Text of the lawsuit