Opinion: 'Jennifer's Law' gives judges more power to halt domestic violence in CT

On June 4, “SB 1091,” informally known as “Jennifers’ Law,” passed in the Connecticut House of Representatives with overwhelming and bipartisan support. The bill is now before Gov. Ned Lamont, and we urge him to sign it into law. SB 1091 mandates a wide-range of important reforms that will afford greater rights and protections to victims of domestic violence. Most notably, it will expand the definition of family violence in Connecticut’s restraining order statute to allow judges to consider acts of “coercive control” in abusive situations that do not involve actual physical harm to victims.

Coercive control entails power and control over the victim through actions such as isolation, humiliation, intimidation, and domination. It does not relate to a single incident but is a purposeful pattern of behavior that takes place over a period of time in order to make the victim dependent on the abuser. Coercive control can look like threats to take away the children, delaying court proceedings with frivolous legal claims, constant video-recording and other tactics of digital abuse, harassment, verbal humiliation, and gaslighting just to name a few examples.

For our clients, this legislation enables them to seek an order of protection before a situation escalates to physical violence. Studies show, the most dangerous time for a victim is when they attempt to leave their abuser. Whether physical violence has occurred or not, a victim experiencing coercive control can now be eligible to receive an order of protection against an abuser which may make it safer for them to leave.

This milestone piece of legislation provides comprehensive protections for victims of domestic violence by addressing real experiences of survivors with all forms of domestic violence, not just physical abuse. In addition to recognizing coercive control, the bill establishes a grant program to provide low-income victims with legal representation when applying for a restraining order. It amends the definition of family violence crime to include violations of court orders issued for family violence and requires the court to consider the heightened risk posed to victims when determining bond for violations of court orders. It requires landlords, upon request of the tenant, to change the locks of an individual dwelling unit of a survivor of domestic or sexual violence when they have a court-issued restraining or protective order, or civil protection order.

SB1091 is an enormously important step forward to creating a tangible path to safety and healing for domestic abuse victims and a healthier community for all. We are grateful to the senators and representatives in our catchment area (Stamford, Norwalk, Westport, New Canaan, Darien, Wilton and Westport) who have worked so hard to get this legislation passed, and we urge Gov. Ned Lamont to sign it.

Suzanne Adam is the executive director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, the only state-certified domestic violence agency serving the towns of Stamford, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien, Westport and Wilton. All services are free, confidential, multilingual and multicultural. If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour hotline at 888-774-2900.