Connecticut Senator Alex Kasser and National Domestic Violence…

Senator Alex Kasser with members of Connecticut Protective Moms

Research shows that DV only presents as verifiable physical violence in 10% of reported cases. However, many DV cases include an abuser’s escalating use of Coercive Control tactics. This bill could have better protected Jennifer Dulos and would protect countless mothers and children seeking safety."

Connecticut Protective Moms, a grassroots group of Connecticut moms working to make family court safer for Domestic Violence (DV) Victims, announces that Senator Alex Kasser has introduced “Jennifer’s Law” for the 2021 Legislative session. The bill is named in honor of Jennifer Dulos, the New Canaan, Connecticut, mother who went missing and was suspected of being allegedly murdered by her husband while she was pleading for her and her children’s safety in family court. The focus of the bill is to update and modernize the definition of Domestic Violence (DV) in Connecticut state law to include Coercive Control - a pattern of abuse which is not necessarily physical that isolates, dominates and intimidates a victim into submission through a pattern of behavior. This can include assault, psychological abuse, financial abuse, revenge porn, stalking and other forms of domination and threat. The bill would also prioritize child safety in custody proceedings by making DV, including child abuse, the first factor assessed by the family court in a case involving custody. The bill also requires Coercive Control training by professionals with direct experience working with survivors, as well as legal support for victims seeking a protective order from the Court. Kasser’s bill would require judges to recognize victims of DV and child abuse and give them the safety and protection they deserve.

“When women are the victims of abuse, they seek safety for themselves and their children,” said Senator Kasser, lead sponsor of this legislation. “Often that means staying with the abuser because the danger of leaving is too great. But when victims do summon the courage to leave, we have a responsibility to believe and protect them. Too many women have lost their lives just trying to get free. And too many children have become collateral damage in this struggle. It’s time for us to shine a light on DV in all its forms and protect those who need protecting. Women often feel shame and fear when they’re with their abuser and when they leave they are re-traumatized by a society that doesn’t believe them. DV is a public health crisis that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. And oftentimes the signs are invisible."

“Many victims say that the invisible forms of DV - Coercive Control - are more terrifying than physical violence,” noted Senator Kasser. “It’s time to update our systems and beliefs to reflect this reality. It’s time to remove the stigma, shame and fear. It’s time for real change.”

“National experts agree that DV includes not only physical and sexual abuse, but it includes additional actions used to dominate and control a spouse/partner, making her afraid, powerless and subjugated,” said Betsy Keller, founder of Connecticut Protective Moms. “These actions are collectively referred to as coercive control. Hawaii passed a coercive control bill in September, 2020. California has one too. Given the national attention on the Jennifer Dulos case, and the fact that DV affects women in every community, Connecticut should be a leader on this issue.”

In an Op-Ed written by Hon. Family Court Justice Michael Albis published in March, 2020, the Connecticut Judicial Branch publicly supported the key component of Kasser’s proposal - expanding the legal definition of DV to include Coercive Control. Current law only recognizes “continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury” but not other types of threat or injury. The current definition “severely restricts” what the court can do to protect victims, Albis noted. Judge Albis concluded that “by adopting language as suggested by Sen. Kasser, the legislature will allow judges to elevate all DV to the scrutiny it deserves, particularly in cases involving child custody.” 

Research shows that DV only presents as verifiable physical violence in 10% of reported cases. However, many DV cases include an abuser’s escalating use of Coercive Control tactics. “This bill could have better protected Jennifer Dulos and countless other Connecticut mothers and children who have been harmed while seeking safety from an abusive partner in family court,” says Danielle Pollack of CHILD USA, a national think tank for child protection. “In addition, a way to punish an victim for leaving, abusers who previously had perpetrated violence against their adult partner will often redirect their abuse toward children and/or litigate for control of the children once their adult partner - no longer available to abuse directly - exits the relationship. Unfortunately, family courts often do not recognize this pattern, but Jennifer’s Law aims to improve the courts capacity to do so.”

According to Joan Meier, Law Professor at George Washington University Law and Director of the National Family Violence Law Center, who published a 2019 study of DV and family court harmful practices,“My family court research is a groundbreaking empirical study of over 4000 cases powerfully affirming the reports from the field, that women who allege abuse – particularly child abuse – by a father are at significant risk (over 1 in 3) of losing custody to the alleged abuser in family court. Protective parents are often forced to share custody with an abuser while enduring years in contentious family court proceedings.”

Evan Stark, PhD, MSW, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University, introduced the concept of coercive control in his book Coercive Control where he shows most abuse in relationships includes a combination of violent and nonviolent tactics (such as threats, stalking and psychological abuse), introduced over time, that often extend to use of the children to control the mother by threatening to harm them if she leaves or disobeys. The abuser may also use the children as allies in the mother's abuse.

To learn more about DV and the Jennifer’s Law Bill, read more at https://www.connecticutprotectivemoms.org/press.

A Policy Brief: Legislating Coercive Control- Jennifer’s Law provides additional background information. 

About Connecticut Protective Moms
Connecticut Protective Moms (CPM) is a 501 (c) (3) grassroots organization of Connecticut moms who are dedicated to improving the Connecticut Family Court process to validate all forms of Domestic Violence (DV) including physical, coercive control, emotional, verbal, financial and legal abuse.

Contact: Jill Rosenfeld
admin@connecticutprotectivemoms.org
connecticutprotectivemoms.org
203-561-6988

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