About a week ago I received an invitation to a protest. Seems like I’m getting more invites to protests than parties this year, what with the Occupy hordes trying to get more people involved in various events. I find it ironic that now in my mid-40s, a time when I’m supposed to be driving a Corvette and dating 20-year-olds, I’m being asked to participate in the types of events that I skipped in my 20s.

One of the invitations I received was from Marc Angelucci, vice president of the National Coalition For Men. He was organizing an action Saturday in front of the Verizon store located at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and 16th Street. This was not some protest about the outrageous and deceitful sales tactics of a corporation — well, actually it kind of was. Verizon, in conjunction with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, produced an outrageous and deceitful video about domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a major hot topic. Emotions run exceedingly high, and people on all sides of the issue have very strong, deeply entrenched opinions about the causes, the treatments, and the ongoing damage it does to families, especially children.

I come from a family where there was a lot of domestic violence. As I like to say, the “Friday Night Fights” in our house were actually in our house. If the laws then were like they were today, I’m pretty certain I would have grown up in foster care, as more and more children do today.

So when the invite came from the National Coalition For Men to attend a protest “against Verizon’s sexist, anti-father ads that depict all domestic violence as committed by men and fathers against women, and that says among children who witness it, the girls grow up to be victims while the boys grow up to be abusers,” I had to attend.

What I found was a group of nine men, two boys and two women of mixed races and religions, who were holding signs that read “Stop Denying Domestic Violence Batters Men” and “Verizon Vilifies Fathers” and “Why Wont The Domestic Violence Industry Recognize Women Who Batter Men?” and “Honk 4 Dad’s Rights” — which caused a ton of supportive honking, even by a Verizon FiOS van!

One of the protesters had a copy of the video on his iPhone and I was able to watch the ad. In it the stereotypes of an abusive father and victim mother and child were portrayed in an artsy, animated manner that would be very attractive to young, impressionable children’s minds. I was appalled when I watched it because of its portrayal of the cycle of violence. Woman/girl as victim and man/boy as abuser.

The utter lack of balance, of an acknowledgment that women can be abusers also, saddened me because I grew up in a house where the woman was as much as an aggressor as the man. I know from personal experience that a woman is just as capable of domestic violence. I learned how to knife fight from my mom, not my dad. I learned how to shred a person’s ego not in law school but from listening to my mom do it to my father. She would regularly call him a coward, then berate him when he got physical with her. It was a no-win situation. She would taunt and terrorize him and then fall back on her status as a woman as why he should not defend himself.

I regularly see the same thing today in my family law practice. Men who have been taunted and terrorized by their wives or girlfriends to the point of breaking, and when they eventually do, they are considered to be the abuser. If I say, “it is their own fault,” most people agree with me, “a man should never hit a woman,” but few are those who will stop and reconsider their logic, and realize that it is a form of “blaming the victim” when I say that. If a man has been pushed to the point of abuse, then he is the first victim in an abusive relationship. It’s just that the abuse a woman perpetrates often leaves no visible marks.

Men are rarely considered to be victims in abusive households yet the Domestic Violence Protection Act considers “disturbing the peace” of the other occupant as a basis for a restraining order removing someone from their house with almost no notice. Which is how abusive women start with men, because men are likely to “just take it” or risk being called a coward by others, especially the police, who regularly ignore the pleas of men for help because they are not bleeding.

Most shelters wouldn’t take men, which is why the coalition states in their press release they “had to sue the state of California for its widespread discrimination against male victims.” The lawsuit resulted in an appellate decision holding that “domestic violence is a serious problem for both women and men,” that excluding male victims “carries with it the baggage of sexual stereotypes,” and that it is unconstitutional to exclude male victims of domestic violence from the statutory funding provisions or from state-funded services.

I applaud the coalition for their protest on Saturday and for forcing Verizon and the National Domestic Violence Hotline to remove a damaging video, and shedding light on a topic that too few people want to discuss honestly and openly.

David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or (310) 664-9969.

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