How Jennifer’s Law affects those accused of domestic violence

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In 2021, Connecticut state lawmakers passed a bill that became Jennifer’s Law. This new statute, named for two women who experienced severe domestic violence, significantly altered how the state defines domestic violence. Many people still have an outdated idea of what entails domestic violence in Connecticut. They likely imagine scenarios involving direct interpersonal conflict that leave someone physically injured. Such situations often do meet the statutory standard for domestic violence charges.

Since the passage of Jennifer’s Law, it is possible for the state to prosecute someone for domestic violence even if they have never caused a physical injury to an alleged victim. Connecticut prosecutors can use Jennifer’s Law to file domestic violence charges against someone accused of coercive control.

What is coercive control?

Social researchers have identified certain behaviors that have a strong association with physical domestic violence and intimate partner homicide. Coercive control is one category of such behaviors. Since the passage of Jennifer’s Law, Connecticut now recognizes stalking, including cyberstalking online, to be a form of coercive control.

The definition also includes attempts to isolate someone from their other social contacts, intentionally limiting someone’s financial independence by controlling their resources or intentionally manipulating someone’s social activities. Essentially, causing someone else fear for their safety or the safety of others that they care about through direct threats or controlling behavior might constitute coercive control.

What are the possible consequences?

Someone accused of coercive control could be subject to criminal prosecution if there is sufficient evidence of such misconduct. The penalties possible after a conviction would include fines, incarceration and probation.

A family member, intimate partner or household member could also potentially pursue a civil protection order by claiming coercive control rather than physical abuse. Individuals facing a high-conflict divorce and those in volatile relationships may have reason for concern about how this expanded definition of domestic violence might potentially affect their lives.

Someone who has been recently arrested or served with paperwork for a civil order of protection will want to look into the situation carefully to have the best possible chance at avoiding lasting consequences. Ultimately, seeking legal guidance to better understand how Connecticut has changed its domestic violence laws can benefit anyone potentially facing accusations of domestic violence or coercive control.