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Denying Male Domestic Violence Victims Aid is Unconstitutional

The California Court of Appeals held that the gender-based denial of domestic violence services to male victims deprives those victims of equal protection of the law.

Four men and the daughter of one, sought to escape relationships which subjected them to domestic violence. They contacted several California domestic violence programs for help, but were denied assistance because those programs did not offer services to men.

They brought a state court action, challenging several statutes related to domestic violence programs and programs for prisoner mothers. Plaintiffs asserted that the gender-based classifications in the statutes do not withstand a strict scrutiny analysis because the classifications are not necessary and gender-neutral alternatives are available. The trial court dismissed their action, finding that they failed to show that they were similarly situated to women, for purposes of the challenged statutory schemes.

The California Court of Appeals reversed in part, finding that "the gender-based classifications in the challenged statutes that provide programs for domestic violence violate equal protection." The court found that "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." The court reformed "the affected statutes by invalidating the exemption of males and extending the statutory benefits to men, whom the Legislature improperly excluded."

The court affirmed the dismissal related to the programs for prisoner mothers, finding that plaintiffs failed "to show men are similarly situated to women for purposes of the prison programs." See: Woods v. Horton, 167 Cal.App.4th 658, 84 Cal.Rptr.3d 332 (Cal.App. 3 Dist. 2008).

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Related legal case

Woods v. Horton