National Post

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Men's groups cite spousal assault bias

'The female discount'

Robert Remington
National Post

CALGARY - Women in domestic violence cases are consistently treated less harshly by the legal system than men, according to a study released yesterday by support groups for battered husbands.

The organizations, at co-ordinated news conferences in eight Canadian cities, said the report underlines the need for more support services for men. The groups say they are ridiculed and not taken seriously, making it difficult for them to raise money for men's crisis lines and shelters for abused husbands.

"Frankly, we're tired of being laughed at and scoffed at. The attitude is 'What are they, a bunch of wimps?' and that makes us very sad," said Ray Clark, a former Calgary city councillor who heads the Family of Men Support Society. The advocacy group for battered men receives no government funding, raising its operating money through casinos.

The society, and similar groups in Saint John, Ottawa, Toronto, Regina, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver, released a study showing male victims of domestic violence suffer gender bias at the hands of police and the legal system.

The study, by Grant Brown, an articling lawyer from Edmonton, showed women in domestic violence cases are less likely than men to be found guilty and also receive more favourable plea bargains.

"In general, whenever a law- enforcement person -- police, prosecutor, or judge -- has discretion, it seems that they exercise it more harshly against men than women," said Dr. Brown, who holds a doctorate in ethics. The bias is so pervasive that it is openly referred to in the legal community as "the female discount," he said.

Kathleen Mahoney, a University of Calgary law professor and women's equality advocate, said Dr. Brown's analysis is flawed.

"He equates males and females as being equal in a violent relationship, and they're not, of course. Physically, they're not, economically, they're not, socially they're not," she said. "Nobody has ever said that no woman has ever assaulted a male in a domestic violence situation. But the data has been highly consistent, that primarily the serious crimes are committed against women in domestic violence assaults. You can play with the data all you want, but it doesn't change the evidence."

Dr. Brown's study analyzed 368 domestic violence cases from the Edmonton Crown prosecutor's office disposed in the first half of 2001 and 2,935 domestic violence cases handled by Edmonton police in 1999 and 2000. In domestic arguments involving no injuries to either party, men are 19 times more likely to be charged than women, the report found.

In 206 cases in which only the male partner was injured, the female partner was charged in 124 of the incidents (60.2%). In 1,452 cases in which only the female partner was injured, the male partner was charged in 1,323 of those (91.1%). In cases when both partners were injured, the man was more than twice as likely to be charged, the report says.

Dr. Brown said minor injury cases reflect the largest disparity in the system.

"When men suffer a minor injury, police find a reason not to charge the woman in 28% of the cases. But when women suffer a minor injury, they find a reason not to lay a charge [against the man] in only 12% of the cases.... That is a fairly stark finding," he said.

Several of the men's support groups said they plan to lobby their respective governments for safe houses for abused men. According to Earl Silverman, a director of Calgary's Family of Men Support Society, there are 448 women's shelters in Canada receiving $175-million in government funding, but no similar shelters for abused men.

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