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Friday, March 31, 2017

I Try -- and Fail -- to Get a Straight Answer from My State Representative

Last night my state representative, Stephen Kinsey, held a town hall meeting featuring representatives of various government departments and agencies.

For the past couple months I've been researching the question of whether there are any shelters for battered men in Pennsylvania. A public assistance form I filled out last summer made reference to "a state program for abused women and children," but made no mention of abused men. This was not long after I had confirmed that PA has an equal rights amendment, so the failure to provide for some victims based on their sex would clearly be unconstitutional as well as unfair.

I brought a clipboard and sign-up sheet to the Philadelphia-area premiere of  The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye's documentary on the men's rights movement, on which several people supplied their contact info to stay in touch. By the first ensuing group meeting in January, I had decided the apparently non-existent services for battered men would be a good issue around which to organize, if I could confirm my suspicions about it.

What I had ascertained by last night's town hall is that, of the four agencies listed by the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence as providing services in Philadelphia county, only two provide shelter, and in both cases it's only for women and children. At this point I should compare what's provided to the level of need: according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and the Psychological Bulletin, over half of those experiencing domestic violence in a given year, and about a third of those requiring medical attention, are male. So, even if Philly had only three shelter beds, one of these ought to be for a man. And Philly is the most populous county in the state, so even if services aren't evenly distributed, we should expect to find at least some of those for men here.

So, I related these concerns to the person speaking when I arrived at the town hall, a police captain. Her response was that shelter exists that moves from place to place, but locations aren't disclosed out of safety considerations. I explained I didn't need to know locations, but would just like to know how many of these shelters there are. She said they wouldn't tell me that either.

Rep. Kinsey spoke up at this point to explain that he didn't know that he wanted to engage his staff in looking into this if it was only for research as opposed to constituent service, and also repeated the point about safety considerations. My repeatedly pointing out that safety considerations obviously weren't preventing the existence of shelters for women from being publicized on the Web seemingly didn't register with them; they just repeated the same language without acknowledging the logical inconsistency of their statements.

A moment later, when the captain had moved on to another constituent's question, a staffer handed me a note saying, "The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects information not being disclosed regarding shelters." While she was still within earshot I commented, "Inconsistently, it would appear. They're not hiding the existence of shelters for women." She offered no reply.

It appears overwhelmingly likely to me that the reason they wouldn't give me any information about the purported shelters for battered men is that they actually don't exist. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that they do, the rationale for not publicizing their existence makes no sense; you're not going to convince me that they're actually more careful about men's safety than women's. Rather, the only practical effect hiding the existence of such shelters could have is to make it less likely those who need them would know to look for them -- especially when combined with how all the advertising about this issue relentlessly frames it in terms of male perpetrators and female victims. The message an abused man gets in these circumstances can only be that he doesn't exist, or doesn't count. It's invalidating.

I will want to spend a little time checking on whether there are men's shelters in other counties than Philadelphia. If not, that makes it a statewide issue. But even if there are, it's a serious misallocation of resources to have none of them here.

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