Legislators unanimously passed a sweeping anti-domestic violence bill earlier this month that prohibits courts from ordering survivors to make alimony payments to partners convicted of crimes against the victims, and expands an electronic monitoring program.
Domestic violence survivors spoke in front of the Judiciary Committee, many making the case that the scourge of such violence had to be tackled head on.
For legislators like State Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, the issue was personal.
Berger-Girvalo first tried to strengthen domestic violence laws in 2021, but her ideas didn’t get the traction needed for passage until the 2023 session.
“I lost my best friend [in 2018], my children’s godmother, to domestic violence. She was murdered by her domestic partner,” Berger-Girvalo told CT Examiner.
Berger-Girvalo, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she had no idea how severe the abuse against her friend had been.
“It was much worse than I thought it was,” she said. “She didn’t talk about it. I imagine she was ashamed of it, of allowing this person to move into her home and to treat her that way. She was such a model for me on how to be strong in the face of adversity of any kind; I do think she was a little ashamed that this was happening to her.”
The approved bill consisted of two measures, the first of which creates a domestic violence response advisory council to look at all issues related to domestic violence in the criminal justice system more closely. The second addressed the alimony and electronic monitoring program provisions. Both bills passed the state Legislature unanimously and are expected to be signed soon by Gov. Ned Lamont.
Berger-Girvalo said forcing domestic violence survivors to make alimony payments to a partner convicted of crimes against that partner should be a no-brainer. However, Berger-Girvalo noted, Connecticut is only the third state – after California and New Jersey – with such a provision.
“I spoke to one legislator who said the alimony part is a way for the abuser to have control over the situation,” she said. “Really, though, it adds injury to injury. You have this person who has been convicted of a crime and now you have to pay them money and help them get back on their feet. Making the survivor responsible for this person is so beyond inappropriate.”
The bill also expands the state judicial branch’s electronic monitoring program for family violence offenders by removing its pilot status and requiring the department to establish the program in each judicial district by Oct. 1, 2025. Current law limits the program to a handful of judicial districts in the state.
Under the program, courts can order electronic monitoring for anyone charged with violating a restraining or protective order and who has been determined to be a high-risk offender by the family violence intervention unit. The monitoring is designed to warn law enforcement agencies and victims when the offender is within a specified distance of that victim.
In addition, the new law looks to expand a 2021 grant program that gives free legal assistance to impoverished people applying for temporary restraining orders.
The Glastonbury-based Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence said it supported a broader bill with more provisions, but acknowledged the approved measure will make a difference in providing resources to prevent domestic violence statewide.
“We are happy with what passed,” CCADV CEO Meghan Scanlon told CT Examiner, noting the organization and survivors spoke in support of the bill during various committee hearings. “I think, big picture, we have to thank the Senate leadership of both parties for elevating the issue of domestic violence to a level that everybody should really care about. In our view, the more that we can elevate the conversation around domestic violence, the more we can raise awareness and the more that we can talk about it without shame and stigma.”
Scanlon said she would have liked to see a state line item to fund domestic violence services, but that never made it to the floor. In addition, she said, a provision giving survivors the ability to go to credit agencies to update their credit died in the last hours of the session.
“Often abusers will coerce [survivors] to apply for credit or do it without their knowledge, basically destroying their credit records,” Scanlon said. “I have commitments from the House and Senate leaders from both parties that they will work closely on that together [in 2024].’’
Berger-Girvalo said strides in understanding and addressing domestic violence have been made, but there is still a long way to go on the issue.
I think because we [sometimes] don’t believe women [when it comes to domestic abuse], we have culturally framed it as she is the victim of violence rather than he is the abuser or they are the abuser, because it’s not always men abusing women,” she said. “We’ve only recently been referring to these folks as survivors; it was always that they were victims. It’s important to kind of change the way we speak about this, and who was to blame for it. If I hear one more person ask ‘What was she wearing?’ or ‘Why didn’t she leave?’ I’m gonna blow my top as it makes absolutely no sense.”
Parents also have a responsibility to raise their children with respect for others, Deputy Majority Leader Christine Conley, D-Groton, said.
“It’s not always men, but most of the time it’s men against women, so anything parents can do to talk to their young boys or young sons about how to treat women [is worthwhile],” Conley said. “We also want people who can’t control their emotions or act out physically, to get help before they hurt someone. We want victims to feel that they know where to go and how to get help. I think we have done a good job in getting services to people, I think we are doing better.”
State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, told CT Examiner he believes domestic violence is part of a trend in which violence has escalated and that there needs to be more accountability on many fronts.
“As far as domestic violence specifically, I think anything we can do to improve the situation is warranted,” Sampson said. “We need, though, to do something to restore the notion of criminal justice in the state. … I think the crime problem stems from the steady move away from punishment and more lenient prosecution. I think we need to actually have people in charge in the state who believe that we ought to go back to prosecuting criminals and that prosecution of crime is a deterrent.”