In response to the editorial, “Redefining domestic violence in courtroom,” we applaud state Sen. Alex Kasser’s efforts to redefine the phrase “domestic violence” in family court cases.
Connecticut’s state judges are fully aware from the outstanding, comprehensive and ongoing training they receive that domestic violence can be much more than physical harm. In many cases, the abuser will exert his or her power through psychological abuse — for example, restricting a victim’s financial resources, prohibiting the victim from leaving the house or working, and isolating the victim from family and friends. While no bruises may be left, the impact is just as devastating.
The current law to obtain a family restraining order severely restricts the circumstances under which a court has the authority to grant an order of protection. The statute requires applicants to show that they have “been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury, stalking or a pattern of threatening.” This statute falls far short of giving the court the authority to enter an order of protection based on nuanced signs of power and control or psychologically coercive behavior. So, even if judges suspect emotional abuse, for these reasons, there is no provision in the statute to grant the order on that basis.
By adopting language as suggested by Sen. Kasser, the legislature will allow judges to elevate all levels of domestic violence to the scrutiny it deserves, particularly in cases involving child custody.
The Connecticut Judicial Branch is a national leader and a model for the handling of domestic violence cases. Moreover, the branch is a leader in the use of two validated screening tools used in every temporary restraining order case to identify domestic violence, recidivism and lethality. Our judges also have comprehensive domestic violence bench book material that is updated annually, and they receive regular training from national and international experts, as well as hearing from victims and victim advocates, on all aspects of domestic violence. So we respectfully disagree with the editorial’s assertion that legislation is necessary to require that training for judges be conducted by experts with a background of working with domestic violence victims. This training already occurs and will continue.
We welcome the discussion that Sen. Kasser and other legislators have initiated and their efforts to listen to all parties involved in this very important public health crisis. We want to make clear that the Judicial Branch stands ready and willing to participate in a full review of all systems, programs and funding available in Connecticut to confront domestic violence.
The Hon. Michael A. Albis is chief administrative judge for family matters in the Connecticut Judicial Branch.