Ned Holstein, MD and I co-authored a piece for MSN.com on how police treat domestic violence situations and how difficult it can be for fathers who are being physically attacked by their wives to protect their children and extricate themselves.
The column is No One Believed Me (8/1/09) and it appeared on the front page of MSN.com, which gets 12 million visits per day.
The piece centers on the experiences of David Woods, a partially disabled former Marine who endured years of abuse at the hands of his wife and the law enforcement and domestic violence system which unwittingly enabled her. We wrote:
Four Sacramento County Sheriff’s cars pulled up in front of David Woods’s house. He tried to explain to them what happened. But the lead deputy cut him off: “Yeah, that’s fine. Put your hands behind your back.”
David said, “No, wait, she stabbed me … there’s the knife. See the knife? See my neck wound? See?”
“Put your hands behind your back. Turn around,” the deputy replied.
“No,” David protested. “She stabbed…”
The deputies drew their weapons. David’s little daughters came running out of the back bedroom pleading, “Leave Daddy alone! Mamma tried to hurt him with a knife!”
One deputy, a woman, took the children in the bedroom and shut the door. David stood there, cuffed.
David’s wife Ruth had taken the kids out for a walk in 39 degree weather — for seven hours.
“By the time she got back their fingers were blue, their lips were blue, their ears were blue,” David says. The children were soaked; she was soaked. We argued for an hour. “We had to put them in a warm bath to warm them up; they were hypothermic.”
Then she started cutting up vegetables for dinner. She had a serrated vegetable knife with a blade about seven inches long. She turned around and she stabbed at me.
“I tried to block it, but I was surprised. I was off balance…the knife went right through my collar and gave me a little nick on my neck.
“She reared back to stab me again. I tried to block it again…I hit her in the mouth. She dropped the knife, ran to the telephone, called 911, and told them, ‘My husband is hitting me! I think he’s gonna kill me.’
“When she dropped the knife, I stood over it. I wouldn’t let her hide the knife. I was going to say to the police, ‘See? She tried to stab me.'”
After 15 minutes, the female deputy returned from the bedroom after talking to David’s children. She told the other deputies, “It’s true. Both of the daughters saw it. She tried to stab him with the knife.”
They took the cuffs off David. “Your wife obviously needs help,” the lead deputy said. “She works for Kaiser, you’ve got health insurance that covers mental health, you need to call the emergency number and get her an appointment.”
David says there’s a double standard when it comes to charging men. “Now, isn’t that strange? When she had a fat lip, it was a felony and I was going to jail. But when they finally realized that she tried to stab me in the neck, it stopped being a crime, and instead it was a mental health issue.”
Worst of all, David’s two daughters were caught up in this nightmare. We wrote:
One daughter says, “No one would help. Teachers, parents of friends, anyone I tried to talk to about what was going on at home told me I didn’t understand, that my mother couldn’t possibly be the violent party. When the police came to our home, they would always be ready to arrest my father, sometimes putting handcuffs on him. It was up to me to scream as loud as possible that it was my mom and not my dad, so they wouldn’t take him away and leave me alone with her…
“I grew up paranoid and feeling like the safety in my house was something only I was responsible for. If Mom became violent, it meant I failed. I learned the only way to survive was to watch every argument they had and be ready to interject myself as a distraction before violence happened…. My next task was to try to break it up: the screaming, threatening, pleading, whatever. I had to make sure no details escaped me, because if the cops got called they’d just believe my mom without question. It was my job to make sure the truth got heard.”
Woods was the lead plaintiff in Woods. v. Shewry, where the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that California”s exclusion of men from domestic violence services violates men”s constitutional equal protection rights. To learn more about the lawsuit, click here.
David spoke of the abuse he suffered during his marriage at the From Ideology to Inclusion 2009 conference. The conference featured some of the world’s leading experts on domestic violence, many of whom serve on the Editorial Board of the new peer-reviewed academic journal, Partner Abuse, published by Springer Publishing Company. The conference was presented by the California Alliance for Families & Children and co-sponsored by The Family Violence Treatment & Education Association. Some of you may remember that I also wrote extensively about the 2008 conference–to learn more, click here.