Get them in the same room

Over a period of years, small groups of Renoites have promoted a different view of domestic violence. They have, at different times, under various names, argued that most abuse is committed by women or that most abuse victims are men, that the system is rigged against them and biased in favor of women. The complainants are mostly, but not all, men.

As the years have passed, the claims have changed—the contention about women being most of the abusers was pretty untenable, and so lower numbers have been offered. Last week, we heard 25 percent from one public figure—and then we found that the actual statistic for Washoe County turned out to be 18 percent for 2002-03. (How it is possible to take satisfaction from this kind of trafficking in numbers escapes us.)

Sometimes when questions are raised about whether there is a pattern behind the anecdotes, they move on to new or altered accusations.

And they’ve learned to talk in code, much like politicians talking about race. When they call for gender equality in the family court system, it’s a good idea to look closer at who is saying it.

The arguments of these folks have been so loud and frequent that they have started having an effect on policy makers and office holders. As noted in our pages last week, candidates for office are saying that they hear these kinds of complaints but are uncertain whether they represent community sentiment or just a small group that lost in court.

It’s long past time to find out. The claims of the men’s rights viewpoint—and that’s what it is, behind the code words—need to be closely scrutinized and a judgment rendered. A public hearing needs to be held at which they are closely questioned about their claims. The hearing should simultaneously question the Committee to Aid Abused Women, the principal local advocate agency for domestic abuse victims, to sort out who is telling the truth. Give both sides their say and hold both sides to a standard of accuracy.

When these claims become a substantial campaign issue, the public is not served by letting them continue to circulate without substantiation, or by candidates who fail to speak up in meetings for fear of “ugly” scenes. Voters will elect a family court judge this fall, and sound information is essential to an informed judgment.

Last week, Judge Frances Doherty told us, "A broader community dialogue should take place. I’m not sure how that can be facilitated." Nor are we, but it’s time to find the forum for it.