Senator Kasser Leads Senate Passage of Domestic Violence Bill

State Senator Alex Kasser (D-Greenwich), who has spent the past two years working with domestic violence survivors and experts and advocating for the rights of  victims across Connecticut, on Tuesday led the state Senate in the debate and passage of a bill that expands the definition of domestic violence in civil law to include non-violent abuse, also known as “coercive control.”

Coercive control is a pattern behavior that can include threats, intimidation, gaslighting, and financial abuse which infringes on a victim’s free will and ability to leave.

Coercive control is also a precursor to violence and homicide.

Thirty three percent of women who are killed by their abuser were never harmed by him before. Their murder was the first act of violence. If the coercive control that preceded that act had been identified earlier, their lives may have been saved. 

The bill applies this updated definition of domestic violence to all family court proceedings, including applications for restraining orders, divorce and custody cases. It also establishes a new factor in custody proceedings and recognizes that the “physical and emotional safety of the child,” should be the first consideration of judges making those determinations. Furthermore, when considering the question of abuse inside the family, judges must consider non-violent abusive behaviors, i.e. coercive control.  

The bill also establishes a new legal aid program to provide legal representation for victims of domestic violence who file restraining orders, and it changes the standard for a hate crime to allow someone to be charged if their assault on a person’s race, religion, country of origin was motivated “in substantial part” by those characteristics, and was not simply the “sole” motivating factor for that assault, as current state law requires.

Senate Bill 1091, “An Act Concernine the Definition of Domestic Violence, Revising Statues Concerning Domestic Violence, Child Custody, Family Relations MatterFilings and bigotry or Bias Crimes and Creating a Program to Provide Legal Counsel to Indigents in Restraining Order Cases,” passed the Senate on an 35-1vote and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“For too long, domestic abuse was only recognized as bruises or black eyes. But domestic abuse is much more. Survivors say that non-violent abuse is often more powerful and painful than physical abuse. When a person is threatened with losing her children, her job, her home or her reputation, she is no longer ‘free’ to leave. Victims don’t stay because they want to, they stay because the price of leaving is greater than the suffering they’re already experiencing. Coercive control can include threats, intimidation, gaslighting, financial control, and threats to take the children as a punishment for leaving,” said Kasser, who is Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee. “It takes tremendous courage for a victim to leave an abuser. And when they do leave, we need to ensure they and their children are safe. This bill is a giant step forward in identifying, believing and protecting victims of abuse.”  

SB 1091 is the result of months of work by Senator Kasser to update Connecticut’s domestic violence laws to allow more favorable and fair treatment of victims seeking restraining orders, divorce, child custody, and all matters in family court. If passed by the House and signed into law by the governor, Connecticut would be the third state, after California and Hawaii, to codify coercive control and recognize non-physical abuse. 

The bill requires that a safe space be provided to victims of family violence in all court locations constructed after July 1, 2021.

It allows the state Department of Social Services to expedite general assistance to victims of domestic violence by not factoring in the income of the alleged abuser when determining the amount of assistance available to them.

It requires court officials to consider cash-only bonds when previous family violence court orders have been violated; and it establishes a process for tenants to change the locks on their apartments after obtaining a protective order or a restraining order.

It also provides funding for legal services for indigent victims in five judicial districts with the highest number of applications for restraining orders: Fairfield (Bridgeport), Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk and Waterbury. 

SB 1091 is comprehensive and ground-breaking legislation that gives victims of domestic violence the recognition and protection they deserve.