Ask Dr. Helen: Fighting for Men's Rights

Many readers have written in to ask various questions about domestic violence laws, their effect on men and how to find justice for men in the legal system, especially in the wake of the Duke rape case. In order to answer your questions, I turned to expert Glenn Sacks, who is a men’s and fathers’ issues columnist, radio commentator, and blogger. Below is our interview:


Helen Smith: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed in the 1990’s under President Clinton. How is that working out?

Glenn Sacks: It’s done some good, in that it has helped ensure funding for domestic violence programs and shelters for battered women, but it has also helped create many problems, particularly for fathers and their children.

To pick one example, the restraining order issue is a nightmare. The father
is booted out of the marital home and pushed to the margins of his children’s lives. The orders are often based on false accusations, and are used as custody maneuvers or as punitive measures by angry soon-to-be-ex-wives.

Some judges simply rubber stamp protection order requests. One example is the David Letterman case from a couple years ago, where a judge granted a lunatic woman a restraining order against Letterman because she said he was sending her harassing messages through his TV broadcasts. District Judge Daniel Sanchez, who issued the order, explained, “If [applicants] make a proper pleading, then I grant it.” As if what matters is not the accused’s guilt or innocence, but instead whether the accuser knows how to fill out a form properly.

Other judges may doubt the veracity of the charges but nevertheless decide to “err on the side of caution” by granting them. VAWA and VAWA-funded DV service providers have contributed greatly to the restraining order problem.

Another problem with VAWA is the way that it helps fund domestic violence advocacy groups’ political agenda. Whenever we try to push forward legislation to help resolve some of the gross inequities of the family system and to protect the loving bonds children share with their fathers, these groups are out in force in the legislatures to stop us. That’s what happened with the California Shared Parenting Bill AB 1307 in California in 2005. The Assembly Judiciary Committee was largely sympathetic to our position-until the domestic violence groups showed up. Funded by your tax dollars, they plied the committee members with horror stories, deceptions, and half-truths, and the bill was soundly defeated.

Another example. In 2004, the California Supreme Court decided the LaMusga move-away case. In that case the mother was clearly wrong, continually trying to jerk her kids half way across the country just to keep them from their father, who ran a business in Northern California and couldn’t move.

Gary LaMusga had to stay and work to pay child support to her while she moved his kids away. She even bragged about the better standard of living she gained by using his money and living in a smaller town with a lower cost of living. I wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle about it called “Is a Pool More Important than a Dad?” The mother’s behavior was so bad that when I debated Gloria Allred on the radio about the case, even she didn’t want to defend her. The link to VAWA? Dozens of taxpayer-funded domestic violence advocacy groups from all over the country wrote and/or signed on to an amicus brief urging the California Supreme Court to rule against the father. The case wasn’t even a domestic violence case-it had nothing whatsoever to do with domestic violence-yet here they were, trying to use scare stories and political intimidation to get the Court to sever the bonds between this loving father and his two boys.

HS: What are some of the misconceptions about men and domestic violence?

GS: The biggest misconception is the woman-as-victim/man-as-perp model. Research clearly establishes that women are frequently the aggressors in domestic combat, often employing the element of surprise and weapons to compensate for men’s strength. Yet the domestic violence industry-funded partly by VAWA-does everything it can to suppress this reality.

Even when women are arrested for DV, the DV advocates pretend that she’s really the victim, and the police just misunderstood the situation. The DV industry calls female abusers “victim-defendants,” and advocates on their behalf. It’s a total perversion of what the battered women’s movement once stood for. And, in its early days, that was a very heroic movement.

HS: What are Predominant Aggressor Laws and how do they affect men?

GS: Under Predominant Aggressor Laws, when police officers respond to a domestic disturbance call, they are instructed not to focus on who attacked whom and who inflicted the injuries, but instead consider different factors which will almost always weigh against men. These factors include: comparable size; comparable strength; the person allegedly least likely to be afraid; who has access to or control of family resources (i.e., who makes more money); and others. Given these factors, it is very difficult for officers to arrest female offenders.

The stakes here are high. Because many states also have mandatory arrest laws in domestic violence cases, the predominant aggressor doctrine leads to the arrests of many innocent men. Since family courts usually must consider evidence of domestic violence in determining child custody, an officer’s decision on who to arrest can often determine who will get custody of the couple’s children after the couple divorces or separates.

HS: How does one know if Predominant Aggressor Laws are in force in their state?

They can ask the state Attorney General–often they will have that info. on their website.

HS: What can people like myself who care about equal rights under the law for men do to change things? Should we try to change one law at a time or is consciousness raising a better alternative?

GS: For you personally, just keep doing what you’re doing. For the rest of us, we need to build an effective national advocacy organization that can have a regular lobbying presence in state legislatures to help change and
reform the laws. Much of the problem is our fault-men’s fault. We complain that the legislators pass laws which screw us, but the reality is that when these laws were being debated, we didn’t show up, {my emphasis} we didn’t have a regular presence, we didn’t do the grunt work that the feminist groups have been doing for 35 years.

Fathers and Families, led by Dr. Ned Holstein, is a well-run organization that is on the road to becoming an effective national group. The California Alliance for Families and Children, led by Michael Robinson, is doing good work on this issue in Sacramento. The American Coalition for Fathers & Children and some of its affiliates have done good work on this problem, such as Dads and Moms of Michigan. But we’re a long, long way from where we need to be.

HS: Where do men “show up?” Should they write to their politicians? Testify to Congress? Letters to the Editor? Riot in the streets?

GS: I think we need to build effective organizations, and efforts should be channeled through them.


What struck me most from the interview with Mr. Sacks was his reason for why men are sometimes screwed by unjust laws passed by the legislature–men just don’t show up. So guys, remember that next time you shake your head after hearing about a case of a false accusation, divorced dads who have their kids robbed from them, or a male friend who is hauled off unfairly on domestic violence charges. This is happening because men are letting it. You are standing idly by while your rights are infringed, your freedoms are in question and your sex is used as a weapon against you. As a woman who cares about living in a country that purports to extend life, liberty and happiness to all, regardless of race, sex or creed, I have a hard time dealing with this, I hope that you do too.

If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at [email protected]. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question-if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville,
Tennessee and blogs at This advice column is for
educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace
therapy or psychological treatment.


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