May 18, 2021

Sen. Kasser Leads Senate Passage of Domestic Violence Bill

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

Coercive control is a pattern of 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. 33% 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, their lives may have been saved. 

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 Sen. 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

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. And when considering the question of abuse inside the family, judges must now consider non-violent abusive behaviors too, 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 cannot afford an attorney. In a pilot project, this program increased applicants’ success by more than 50%.

“Providing legal assistance to victims navigating the system is critical,” said Sen. Kasser, “because every person deserves the right to be heard and believed, regardless of what language they speak or what their income may be.”

SB 1091 is the result of months of work by Sen. 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. 

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