Friday, October 7, 2011

Remembering Patricia Overberg

From the website of Stop Abuse for Everyone (www.safe4all.org), on the recent passing of Patricia Overberg, who sought to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of gender, get the help they need:

SAFE Speaker Patricia Overberg, Pioneer Domestic Violence Advocate Who Refused to Discriminate Leaves Lasting Legacy

Overberg was trained in social work before most social work programs adopted the philosophy that all domestic violence is rooted in patriarchal power and control. She believed that family violence needs to be viewed holistically, and her commitment to the principle of equal treatment for all informed everything she did.

Although most battered women's shelters refuse admittance to sons 12 years or older and force mothers to place their sons in foster care or be denied entrance to a shelter, Overberg refused to require mothers to choose between their own safety and the well-being of their children.

When male victims, whether on their own or with their children, sought help, she didn't turn them away. Overberg was director of the Valley Oasis Shelter in Lancaster, Calif. from 1989 through 1998. During that time, Valley Oasis was the only shelter in the U.S. that men needing help could turn to. Even today Valley Oasis remains one of the very few shelters in the U.S. that offers the same level of services to male victims as to female victims.

Overberg treated gay men and lesbians with the same respect and level of service accorded to all the people she helped. She pioneered in bringing a transgendered volunteer on board at the Valley Oasis.

Erin Pizzey, founder of the first modern battered women’s shelter, says: “Pat was a brave, honest and courageous woman. She faced persecution from her colleagues in the domestic violence field and fought back. All of us who work at the coal face of human relationships owe Pat a great deal.”

Because of Overberg's principled refusal to discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, she was treated as a pariah by many of her peers. In a 2002 sworn deposition, Overberg testified that she "was subjected to continuous abuse by other shelter directors for sheltering battered men."( http://www.ncfmla.org/pdf/overberg.pdf )

Undaunted, Overberg encouraged the Los Angeles chapter of the National Coalition for Men (NCFM) to file a lawsuit to end the discrimination against male victims of abuse, and their children. With help from Overberg's testimony, NCFM won a landmark ruling that held it is unconstitutional for the State of California to exclude male victims from state-funded domestic violence services.(David Woods v. Horton (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 658,http://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2008/c056072 )

The effects of this ruling are far-reaching. All states are now on notice that equal protection clauses in constitutions mean what they say. State funds cannot be used to support agencies that discriminate on the basis of gender.

Overberg’s legacy lives on for all victims of domestic violence and in efforts to provide equal access to services for people everywhere.

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