Stamford Advocate October 1, 2020
Opinion: It’s time to fix domestic violence law in CT
Connecticut Protective Moms
Thursday, October 1, 2020
On March 12, two events coincided: The Connecticut General Assembly suspended its legislative session due to COVID-19 and the Hon. Michael A. Albis, chief administrative judge for family matters in the Connecticut Judicial Branch, published an op-ed supporting the key concept of state Sen. Alex Kasser’s Domestic Violence bill. The groundbreaking bill, SB442, was researched, written and introduced by Kasser, whose district includes New Canaan, where Jennifer Dulos lived. “Jennifer’s Law” was introduced by Kasser to prevent tragedies such as the murder of Jennifer Dulos and other Connecticut domestic violence victims involved in family court proceedings, including Aaden Moreno in 2015 and Jennifer Magnano in 2007.
Hundreds of protective moms in Connecticut Family Court are currently trying to free themselves and protect their children from abusers, but are unable to do so because they are often not believed about the abuse and a narrow legal definition in Connecticut statute that only recognizes physical abuse. “Jennifer’s Law” expands the definition of domestic violence in family court law to include and address “coercive control,” which are non-physical actions such as isolation, intimidation, verbal, emotional, legal and financial abuse that control a victim.
Coercive control can be just as damaging as physical violence, and often escalates to violence when the abuser can no longer control the victim. Jennifer Dulos was emblematic of that pattern. She knew she was in danger the moment she filed for divorce and dared to leave. It should have been apparent to many involved in the contentious divorce case that two years and more than 500 motions filed was not a normal divorce between bitter parents.
Evan Stark, a Connecticut DV expert who authored the book on coercive control, spoke in support of Jennifer’s law in January and explained how abusers maintain control over a partner not only through violence, but through threats to take away or harm their children. The United Kingdom passed coercive control laws based on Stark’s work in 2015.
Yet, the court did not grant Jennifer a protective order because the law did not allow it. Dulos’ experience in family court is similar to what thousands of DV victims experience when they are not believed in court during a separation or a divorce and consequently not protected.
Kasser’s original bill was scheduled for a public hearing in March. Then COVID-19 hit and every bill in the legislature was shelved. But after spending more than a year meticulously researching this issue with DV experts, Senator Kasser would not let Jennifer’s law disappear. Since the pandemic hit, DV calls to crisis centers have increased significantly. And with the courts closed, there was no legal recourse. Fortunately, the governor issued an executive order to allow electronic applications for restraining orders so an applicant does not have to appear in court. The new system has worked well and Kasser wants to continue this option.
In recent weeks, she worked with Judge Albis to craft a new bill that makes this electronic application system permanent and also expands the definition of DV in so applicants can be granted protection if they’re experiencing coercive control. These changes are needed and urgent — and would keep victims and their children safe.
We strongly urge Governor Lamont to include this bill in a special session to grant victims of DV and their children the legal protection they deserve.
Cathryn Couzens, Ellington, Emily Goodman, Greenwich, Betsy Keller, Greenwich, KerryAnne Linnae, Fairfield, Lori Monte-Hubbard, Norwalk,, and Sue Shatney, Haddam Neck, are members of Connecticut Protective Moms.