Sacramento cops are seeing more men as victims of domestic abuse. But is this an exception or the new normal?
Unfortunately, it isn’t news to report that domestic-violence calls are ubiquitous in Sacramento County. Dispatchers field thousands upon thousands of such complaints each and every year in and around the capital city.
But unlike the days when known victims were almost exclusively female, some patrol officers and outreach workers are noticing a subtle, almost imperceptible shift in who gets beaten and who does the beating.
“With respect to trends, numbers, incidents regarding domestic-violence calls, I can just say anecdotally that the tide has changed, so to speak, over the years,” observed Deputy Jason Ramos, spokesman for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. “We see more and more cases where the primary aggressor is the female half instead of the male.”
One of the gnarlier examples occurred last month: On December 5, 2012, sheriff’s officers responded to a call from a Rancho Cordova apartment complex, where a 25-year-old woman reportedly tried to set her ex-boyfriend on fire following a dispute over their children’s clothes.
The incident took place around 11 a.m. that Wednesday in the parking lot of the La Loma Drive complex, where the 31-year-old male victim lives.
He told authorities that his ex beckoned him to the passenger-side window of her car and said, “I’ve got something for you.” What the ex-boyfriend spotted—and smelled—was a 1-gallon jug of gasoline. The two struggled over the open gas can, dousing each other with its contents.
After wresting the jug away, the ex-boyfriend called the cops. The female suspect was arrested on arson charges but faces misdemeanor counts of domestic battery and destruction of property, according to Sacramento Superior Court records.
Hers isn’t the only such case.
More recently, on December 18, sheriff’s deputies jailed a 34-year-old Del Paso Heights woman after she allegedly clobbered her 35-year-old boyfriend with a candlestick and then used it to crack the windshield of his car.
That same Tuesday, Sacramento police arrested a 39-year-old East Sacramento woman after her husband accused her of physical assault.
A day earlier, police responded to a call from an O Street residence and arrested a 27-year-old woman for striking her boyfriend multiple times.
On December 15, at Fifth Street and Capitol Mall, a 31-year-old woman was cuffed for hitting her boyfriend with a bicycle. That’s right, a bicycle.
And on December 8, police apprehended a 44-year-old wife after she allegedly threatened to slice up her man with a pair of scissors. The suspect in that case—who faces felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats, as well as one misdemeanor count of brandishing a weapon—was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial and is undergoing medical treatment, according to online court records.
So, what’s the deal?
Local experts are reluctant to say female-on-male domestic attacks are rising in prevalence, but they do see a bigger male population that’s reaching out more often.
“Men face very different obstacles to services,” explained Julie Bornhoeft, the director of development and community relations at WEAVE, which provides emergency shelter and support services to both male and female victims of domestic violence.
The stigma of being a male domestic-abuse victim is one of those lingering hurdles. Bornhoeft notes that the men who do contact her organization for help are much more likely to use anonymous means such as the hotline or online message board.
Anecdotal examples of female aggressors notwithstanding, women still represent 88 percent to 90 percent of those abused in domestic settings, the latest peer-reviewed surveys indicate. Some studies put male victimization numbers considerably higher, but Bornhoeft said those surveys are either flawed or haven’t been subjected to peer review.
“It’s still a small number of the total we see,” she said.
WEAVE’s own internal numbers back up the national figures. Of the more than 12,000 calls WEAVE received between July 2011 and June 2012, 90 percent were from women. WEAVE also provided emergency shelter to 178 women and 173 children, but only three men during that time period.
Between January 1 and November 30, 2012, the Sacramento Police Department documented 1,318 known offenses and persons arrested for felony domestic violence on a spouse or cohabitant, and another 917 cases of misdemeanor battery on a spouse or noncohabitant. While information on gender wasn’t available, if 10 percent of those case involved male victims, that would mean roughly 223 such cases through the first 11 months of 2012.
But, as Sacramento police spokeswoman Officer Michele Gigante points out, the city’s robust LGBT population makes it even trickier to draw simple conclusions about which gender is inflicting what amount of damage on whom.
“We see it on both sides,” she said. “It depends on what the fight’s about. There are so many factors.”
But that doesn’t mean a growing need isn’t there, just that the services and cultural attitudes haven’t caught up.
Bornhoeft said that while the stigma of being a male victim of domestic violence is gradually ebbing, such flip-side abuse is becoming more common in younger relationships, “where there might be less of a power imbalance.”
Women and children in need of shelter are provided access to WEAVE’s campus-style Safehouse, but WEAVE doesn’t have a similar option for its male clients. The three men WEAVE assisted last year were given hotel vouchers.
That’s part of a conversation the local nonprofit—which now almost exclusively goes by its acronym rather than what the word stands for: Women Escaping a Violent Environment—will be diving into over the coming weeks, Bornhoeft told SN&R.
“You’re asking a lot of the questions we’re talking about,” she said. “It’s a very gray area. We’re not sure what services will look like in three months.
“We’re looking at how we create a truly inclusive program.”
When it comes to providing shelter, the answer for WEAVE may be to keep the genders separate, but equal.