RADAR ALERT: Pioneering Domestic Violence Advocate Who Refused to Discriminate Leaves Lasting Legacy
TORRANCE, Calif., August 15, 2011 -- She changed the lives of thousands, perhaps millions, but few know her name. Patricia Shanley Overberg, MSW, died of heart failure in Torrance, California, on August 11, 2011, with her children at her side. Overberg, a native of Providence, Rhode Island, was 77.
With the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) due for reauthorization this year, Overberg's views on discrimination are particularly timely. Trained in an era before most social work programs adopted the philosophy that all domestic violence is rooted in patriarchy, she believed that family violence needs to be viewed holistically. Her commitment to the principle of equal treatment for all informed everything she did.
Although most VAWA-funded battered women's shelters force mothers of boys over age 12 to place their sons in foster care or be denied entrance, Overberg refused to require mothers to choose between their own safety and their children's well-being.
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 as to female victims.
Overberg treated gay men and lesbians with the same respect and level of service accorded to everyone she helped. She pioneered in bringing a transgendered volunteer on board at 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 based on sex or sexual orientation, many of her peers treated her as a pariah. 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 National Coalition for Men (NCFM) to bring suit to end the discrimination against male victims of abuse and their children. Helped by Overberg's testimony, NCFM won a landmark ruling that held it is unconstitutional for 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.
Note: Contributions in Pat's memory may be sent to:
Valley Oasis Shelter
P.O. Box 2980
Lancaster, CA 93539
Date of RADAR Release: August 15, 2011
R.A.D.A.R. -- Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting -- is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://mediaradar.org
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