Over 100 people testified at the March 24, 2021 Judiciary Committee in Connecticut, mostly in favor of State Senator Alex Kasser’s domestic violence bill SB 1060, also known as Jennifers’ Law.
Jennifers’ Law, which is named in honor of two domestic violence victims, defines coercive control in Connecticut legislation for the first time.
Jennifers’ Law is the Connecticut version of the Phoenix Act, the California state bill which passed into law last year and became the first piece of American legislation to mention coercive control. Shortly after the Phoenix Act passed in California, Senator Alex Kasser began working with the team behind the Phoenix Act to bring similar legislation to Connecticut.
Jennifers’ Law was supported by nearly 10 hours of powerful personal testimony from domestic violence survivors including actress Evan Rachel Wood. Friends and family of the two women for whom the bill is named also testified in support of it, including intimate partner homicide victim Jennifer Magnano’s children, Jessica, David, and Emily, as well as friends of Jennifer Dulos, the second namesake for the bill who went missing in 2019 and has since been presumed dead. After being merged with another domestic violence bill, the new combined bill SB 1091 was voted out of the Judiciary Committee last Thursday with overwhelming support from committee members.
An article later reported that the new bill would no longer be called Jennifers’ Law. Various domestic violence survivors, advocates, and experts strongly objected to that decision.
“Dozens of domestic violence survivors risked retaliation and harm to testify in support of Jennifers’ Law. Some even testified from hiding because telling their stories creates real danger,” said actress, advocate, and survivor of domestic violence Evan Rachel Wood who testified at the hearing. “We call on legislators to honor all victims of domestic violence, including those who have not survived, by retaining the name of this legislation. Furthermore, we should not continue to wait for this life-saving legislation. We call upon Senator Mae Flexer to honor the name and substance of Jennifers’ Law and the Senate and House leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote without delay.”
“It is deeply offensive to take our mother’s name off this law. We have been fighting so hard for her not to be just another statistic,” said Jessica Rosenbeck, the eldest daughter of Jennifer Magnano.
“This move to strike the name Jennifer from the law adds salt to the gaping wound felt by so many victims and shows the petty nature of any legislator who would go out of their way to make such a change. Having a name, such as Jennifer’s Law, associated with this legislation humanizes the needs of so many voiceless victims in a way that no random sequence of letters and numbers ever could,” added David Magnano, Jennifer Magnano’s son. “It shows the state’s ability to acknowledge its shortcomings, and its willingness to face and address its flaws. It symbolizes hope to do better in combating domestic violence so that we can try to avoid any more tragic losses like those of the one hundred women who the state has already failed in the past decade, four of them named Jennifer.”
“It’s an insult to strike our mother’s name from this law, to try to make it anonymous when her death is the reason for the law,” said Emily Thiebault, another daughter of Jennifer Magnano.
Jennifer Magnano was shot and killed in 2007 by Scott Magnano, who had inflicted coercive control domestic violence upon her for 15 years before the murder. Despite voicing concerns for her safety, Jennifer was told by the Family Court that she must appear in person in court or she would be arrested. Scott lay in wait for her at the family house that she was instructed to return to by the court, killing her just mere feet away from her three children.
The second namesake for Jennifers’ Law, Jennifer Dulos, disappeared on May 24, 2019, during a divorce and custody battle with her estranged husband, Fotis Dulos. Fotis Dulos was later arrested and charged with her murder and kidnapping, though Jennifer’s body was never found.
Others who testified included renowned domestic abuse and coercive control experts Laura Richards, former Head of the Homicide Prevention Unit at New Scotland Yard and architect of coercive control law reform in the UK, and Evan Stark, who popularized the term “coercive control” and testified that coercive control must be defined in law to protect victims.
“Coercive control correlates with femicide and familicide. The bill is pioneering and enshrines the definition of coercive control in law, making the abuse visible for the first time in Connecticut. But attempts to erase the names of the women the bill was conceived from are truly shocking,” said Laura Richards. “This bill is not just a number – it represents women and children’s voices and all victims of domestic abuse and coercive control who have been brutally murdered and silenced. The Jennifers’ legacy must be honored.”
The Phoenix Act campaign was founded by actress and activist Evan Rachel Wood in 2018 to break the cycle of domestic violence in the United States. Since its creation, the Phoenix Act extended the statute of limitations for domestic violence felonies in California in 2019 and established coercive control in California legislation in 2020 before becoming a nationwide campaign in 2021.