The article made us sick to our stomach by giving a blatant and misleading depiction of restraining orders as obnoxious tools used by women having relationship squabbles to get the upper hand. He also insinuates that if only men weren't so embarrassed to ask for help they would get more restraining orders to defend themselves from these antics.
As an agency that works regularly with women in fear for their lives who go through the exhausting process of applying for a restraining order to try to keep themselves from getting killed, we were anxious to respond. So we teamed up with the LAFLA attorneys to write the letter to the editor you see below.
The reality of the situation
Re: What's the Point, "Many men should ask for help sooner," Nov. 3.
At the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), we disagree with Mr. Pisarra's assertion that restraining orders are issued instantaneously at the Santa Monica Courthouse without good cause. As seasoned family law attorneys, who are on the frontline every day working with victims of domestic violence, these cases tell us otherwise.
LAFLA's attorneys staff a domestic violence clinic at the Santa Monica Courthouse where we handle more than 600 cases of domestic abuse every year. Abused victims often arrive at the courthouse exhausted, many live in constant fear and have not slept, and some have fresh bruises. Others have spent the night at the hospital. All of the women are scared and arrive with frightened children in tow.
Even before these women can see a judge, they have to go through many steps. At the domestic violence clinic, staff attorneys assess the cases and ascertain whether the facts are sufficient to state a claim before completing the thick stack of forms. The entire process can take two to three hours. All the while, waiting victims are worried about losing their job, picking up their children from school or how to pay the rent and the bills without their spouse's salary. Victims are frustrated, because Mr. Pisarra has made getting a restraining order sound like a process that takes only as long as saying "Welcome to Santa Monica." At the end of the day, the victims are exhausted, hungry and scared. Although plans are made to return to complete the process, the person threatening to kill her has found her, or taken the child or children out of school and disappeared, or disabled her vehicle.
We know that most women have the courage to come to a clinic or court only after years of abuse, or after their teenage sons become old enough to get hurt protecting them. Many don't complain after being set on fire, or threatened with being killed and buried in the desert. Sometimes it is months and months of living in fear, seeing the same face waiting for them outside the apartment, peering out from a parked car, night after night long after the relationship has been over. Lost pregnancies, slaughtered pets and forced sex are all parts of many victims' histories.
On the other hand, men come to the clinic reporting a few days of bothersome phone calls, sometimes three to five in a week. They tell us that the calls are not threatening, but they worry that the wife or girlfriend will lure him into attacking her and he wants to "protect himself." Perhaps men should ask for help sooner, but in our experience very few men experience the terror and fear of living with domestic violence every day. Statistics show that 86 percent of victims are female. Both female and male victims face trauma and fear, which must not be denied and minimized.
Patricia Butler, director Sojourn Services for Battered Women and their Children. A project of Ocean Park Community Center; Minty Siu-Kootnikoff, staff attorney; Susan G. Millmann, senior attorney Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Office
November 17, 2009