October 7th, 2009 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Last Friday, a West Virginia Circuit court struck down three administrative rules governing the licensing and operation of domestic violence shelters in that state. It did so in part because the rules and their application were explicitly gender-biased, contrary to the "crystal clear" gender-neutral language and intent of the statute.
The full opinion is here and is well worth reading. It draws a clear and detailed picture of a state agency utterly in thrall to a concept of domestic violence that is well established as false. To men's rights advocates, it strongly suggests effective litigation tactics for attacking the blatantly discriminatory statutes and administrative rules that so distort our response to the problem of domestic violence.
Here, as I understand it from the court's opinion, is what happened in West Virginia. The legislature passed a law that established an administrative agency, the Family Protection Services Board (FPSB), whose mission it is to license and oversee DV shelters, and programs to assist DV perpetrators in changing their behavior. The FPSB was empowered to set standards for these programs and shelters, and did. But the intent of the legislature was clear - all West Virginians, irrespective of sex, were to have access to services.
But when the FPSB swung into action, it directly contradicted the "crystal clear" intent of the legislature. First, it relied exclusively on the feminist DV group, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It promulgated a rule that required at least one-third of the staff of a DV shelter to have been trained by the Coalition. Into the bargain, the Coalition refused to train anyone who was not a member of the Coalition. In short, members of the general public who wanted to be trained in domestic violence response or advocacy, were barred from doing so. Only those with the "correct" ideology were permitted licensure.
And, given the political slant of the Coalition, it should come as no surprise that the court found that this rule "excludes any person who does not adhere to the gender-biased fundamental beliefs of the Coalition." Those "gender-biased fundamental beliefs" meant that men and adolescent boys were excluded from all DV shelters in the state based solely on their sex (and age). That, of course is standard Duluth Model practice, but it is not gender-neutral as required by West Virginia state law.
The same held true for perpetrator intervention programs. Again, in strict compliance with the political doctrine that holds that only men commit DV and only women are victims of it, the Board, through its hand-picked agent, the Coalition, directly contradicted the clear terms of the law. In doing so, it deprived female abusers of the benefits of intervention programs, while simultaneously depriving their adult male and child victims of the benefits of intervening in the perpetrator's behavior. The court struck down that rule too.
Through the lens of a court opinion, it looks like the Board was taken over by the usual radical DV advocates, who then appointed the Coalition to do the daily work of creating and maintaining a DV shelter and intervention system that blatantly discriminated against men, women and boys.
Not only is it clearly discriminatory, it doesn't work. It doesn't work to address the problem of DV because its approach to the problem is ideological. By pretending that DV is a political, as opposed to a psychological, matter, the approach taken by DV shelters and programs across the country cannot work. The simple fact is that they misperceive the problem. Plenty of psychologists know this and have said so. If we truly want to deal effectively with DV, we'll listen to them.
The West Virginia case carries the seeds of future attacks on the blatantly discriminatory DV industry. As such it is a valuable tool as well as a landmark decision of sorts.
I do have one criticism, though. Without being overly technical, the plaintiff in the case was an organization called Men and Women Against Discrimination. It sought to advocate against DV in a gender-neutral way and was prevented by the gender- biased requirements promulgated by the Board and implemented by the Coalition. Among other things, the legal wrong done to the organization was the limitation on free speech the Board's rules placed on its members.
That's fine as far as it goes, but attorneys in future court actions will be well advised to include an individual man or men who sought DV services but were refused. Conspicuously absent from the court's opinion is any notion that the Board's rules violated anyone's due process or equal protection rights. Clearly, if the suit had included an individual plaintiff, instead of just a corporate one, those vital legal concepts would have come into play and the judge would have had an opportunity to rule on them.
But beyond that, this is a great day for men's rights.Thanks to our good friends at the American Coalition of Fathers and Children for sending along the court's decision.