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Confronting Domestic Violence: New state legislation addresses coercive control

This is the second in a seven-part series on the effects of domestic violence.

A new law passed Oct. 1 in the California State Legislature incorporates coercive control into the definition of domestic violence, at least in family court. Under Senate Bill 1141, coercive control can be grounds for a restraining order and, if violated, becomes grounds for a criminal charge.

The legislation comes thanks to actress Evan Rachel Wood, a domestic violence survivor herself and founder of the Phoenix Act, the legislative committee that spearheaded the project.

Some good news has come amid the COVID crisis. The text of SB 1142:

“The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

“(a) In times of natural disasters and crises, rates of interpersonal violence historically rise, especially among households experiencing significant financial strain.

“(b) The COVID-19 pandemic has proven this historical trend to be the reality for survivors of domestic violence as police chiefs nationwide reported increases of 10 percent to 30 percent in domestic violence assaults in the first two weeks after a national emergency was declared in March, also revealing more severe violence as compared with past years.

“(c) During the COVID-19 crisis, reports show this is a worst-case scenario for victims experiencing domestic violence, with the data showing the virus is being used as a scare tactic to keep victims isolated from their support systems, or even their children.

“(d) Shelter-in-place orders and other restrictions related to COVID-19 have also resulted in victims being isolated from family, friends, and their community.

“(e) While some jurisdictions have reported a drop in domestic violence calls, this does not necessarily equate to a reduction in domestic violence. Increased isolation of victims has created an environment where abuse, including coercive control, is more likely to go undetected and therefore unreported.”

The new legislation also states:

“‘Disturbing the peace of the other party’ refers to conduct that, based on the totality of the circumstances, destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party. This conduct may be committed directly or indirectly, including through the use of a third party, and by any method or through any means including, but not limited to, telephone, online accounts, text messages, internet-connected devices, or other electronic technologies. This conduct includes, but is not limited to, coercive control, which is a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty. Examples of coercive control include, but are not limited to, unreasonably engaging in any of the following: 

“(1) Isolating the other party from friends, relatives, or other sources of support.

“(2) Depriving the other party of basic necessities.

“(3) Controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services.

“(4) Compelling the other party by force, threat of force, or intimidation, including threats based on actual or suspected immigration status, to engage in conduct from which the other party has a right to abstain or to abstain from conduct in which the other party has a right to engage.”

In part 3 in the series, we’ll examine the law in more detail and explore what it means to survivors.

Ruthven Darlene, M.A., is founder and director of the nonprofit WomenSV, which provides a range of services for women – and some men – experiencing domestic violence. For more information, call 996-2200, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit womensv.org.

 

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