By limiting free self-defense classes to women only, the city of Glendale and its Commission on the Status of Women is violating federal and state civil rights laws that protect against sexual discrimination, according to a letter sent this month to city officials by the National Coalition for Men.
"Just because you have a penis doesn't mean you come out of the womb with a black belt in karate," Harry Crouch, president of the San Diego-based nonprofit that aims to end harmful gender-based stereotypes, said in an interview Thursday.
For years, Glendale's Commission on the Status of Women has hosted self-defense classes in April on city property for women and girls in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
This is the first time the National Coalition for Men, which was established in 1977, has sent a letter asking the city to open the classes to men and boys as well. Crouch said his organization was only recently made aware of the discriminatory classes.
According to the letter, the classes, which are set to take place in Glendale Police Department's community room twice next month, "violate a host of federal and California anti-discrimination laws. Such female-exclusive or male-exclusive actions by government and private actors violate the equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution and California Constitution."
"It always astounds me that some of our governmental agencies who are charged with protecting us from violations of law simply acquiesce to things like this," Crouch said, adding that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, not just women and girls.
In the United States, about 10% of all sexual assault victims are male, according to statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Sexual assault includes sexual touching, forced penetration and other crimes.
Since receiving the letter, city officials have done preliminary research into the matter and have found that there may be federal law that permits the self-defense classes for women, but more research into state law is planned.
After the research is complete, officials intend to send a response to the National Coalition for Men as well as review the class structure, if necessary.
The classes are paid for by fundraising by Commission on the Status of Women, said Senior Asst. City Atty. Lucy Varpetian.
Lawrence Rosenthal, a law professor at Chapman University and a former Asst. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said if these classes are open to the general public with the only restriction being the gender-based discrimination, then they may be considered illegal.
"Both sexes have to have equivalent opportunities and any special programs targeted at women have to have a clear justification in terms of remediating some sort of inequality of opportunity that women face," he said.