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
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,
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://www.mediaradar.org