Before Jennifer Dulos became a household name and before state police determined that her husband, Fotis, clubbed her to death in his garage, there was another Jennifer who would suffer the same fate. In 2007, Jennifer Magnano was shot and killed in front of her children by her abusive husband after being forced by state justice to appear in family court.
Together, the two Jennifers’ cases became the basis of Public Law 21-78, or Jennifer’s Law, a measure overwhelmingly passed by the Connecticut General Assembly this summer that expands the domestic violence law to include coercive control. The law also establishes guidelines for the representation of victims of domestic violence who file restraining orders.
This Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon, supporters of domestic violence victims who encourage lawyers to use Jennifer’s Law, which came into effect on October 1, will host a four-hour online and in-person workshop, A Guide to Jennifer’s Law and Coercive Review in Family Court, which is designed to familiarize people with PA 21-78 and to explain to lawyers in particular why it is important.
“National experts agree that the definition of domestic violence should include not only physical abuse, which accounts for only 10% of domestic violence cases, but [be] expanded to include coercive control, the non-physical actions used to dominate and control a spouse / partner, ”said Betsy Keller, founder of Connecticut Protective Moms, the organization presenting Thursday’s event. “The passage of Jennifer’s Law has given Connecticut the recognition it deserves as a leader in protecting victims of domestic violence and their children from harm.” Keller noted that Connecticut is the third state to pass a coercive control law, after Hawaii and California.
“Too often, family courts dismiss a mother’s complaints of domestic or child abuse and instead place a child in the care of a dangerous parent,” Keller said. “While no bruising is visible on the victim, the impact of coercive control is just as devastating and just as dangerous.”
Although coercive control is not physical, it can be a predictor of serious domestic violence, Keller said, noting that coercive behaviors can precede and motivate acts of violence in relationships. Keller cited the recent Gabby Petito murder case as an example of a tragedy law enforcement and judicial officials wished they could prevent.
Family lawyer Michelle Cruz, the former state victim’s lawyer who wrote a 45-page investigative report into the 2007 Jennifer Magnano murder, added her support for the law. “With the enactment of Jennifer’s Law, we finally have the protections we need to save lives,” said Cruz. “Restraining orders can now be issued for victims of coercive control. In addition, victims of coercive control can now seek protections for their children and end once and for all the abuses of litigation, which have held them hostage to their violent ex-partners.
Thursday morning’s event will explore the new definition of domestic violence, including coercive control, and how Jennifer’s law may impact how domestic violence is handled in family court proceedings and in civil restraining orders.
Speakers include national enforcement experts including Evan Stark, Ph.D., Christine Cocchiola, DSW, and Lisa Fontes, Ph.D. Additional sessions will be chaired by family lawyers from Connecticut and a panel discussion with Connecticut Protective Moms and their lawyers will complete the program. Registration is free.