In summary

SB 1141 allows survivors to describe abuser’s coercive control as supporting evidence in family court hearings and criminal trials.

By Susan Rubio, Special to CalMatters

State Sen. Susan Rubio, a Democrat from Baldwin Park, represents the 22nd Senate District, senator.rubio@senate.ca.gov.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed domestic violence to hide behind closed doors and slowly be forgotten. Many of us – survivors and supporters – have worked hard for years to push this issue out of the shadows, asking policymakers to hear uncomfortable stories and truths. This lasting damage tears at the fabric of our society in subtle and obvious ways, and affects generations. 

As we fight to ensure this doesn’t happen, we need to continue to push for more legal tools for victims, especially now, as many are caught in increasingly vulnerable households and financial situations. 

That’s why Senate Bill 1141 is a critical piece of legislation that needs to pass this year. My bill expands protections for survivors by allowing them to describe their abuser’s coercive control, which includes psychologically damaging and abusive behavior, as supporting evidence in family court hearings and criminal trials. It reflects the reality of domestic violence.

Abusers use the same playbook over and over again. Their behavior usually includes physical violence but not always. Along with physical and verbal abuse, survivors have repeatedly testified to: being forcibly isolated from friends and relatives or other support; if they are immigrants, being threatened over their status; being deprived of basic necessities; having daily communications with the outside world blocked; and prevented from gaining access to their own personal funds or economic resources. 

We all need to hear the stories of victims to understand how urgent this is, regardless of how horrifying the details are. Like the survivor who, as a young woman, was kept away from her support network and cut off from her own financial resources. She was also tied up, tortured and prodded to a point where she tried to commit suicide multiple times. Or the survivor whose abuse started when she was a young teenager and continued on through adulthood until she was able to break the cycle. This is what we all should be fighting against. 

This bill will not only help victims by allowing them to escape abusive relationships but will have a positive, rippling effect for many of our communities, lessening the negative impacts to victims, their traumatized children and other family members and friends. 

It is supported by Crime Victims United of California, Elizabeth House, FreeFrom, Pathways for Victims of Domestic Violence, Peace Over Violence, StrengthUnited, and the YWCA of San Gabriel Valley, and sponsored by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. 

Unfortunately, as California faces a historic pandemic, I fear that our movement to end domestic violence is sliding down on the list of priorities. This is misguided and lacks the long-term vision that is critically needed. The evidence is irrefutable. 

In times of natural disasters and crises, rates of intimate partner violence historically rise, especially among households experiencing significant financial strain. The pandemic has proven this historical trend to be a reality for survivors of domestic violence as police chiefs nationwide reported increases of 10% to 30% in domestic violence assaults in the first two weeks after stay-at-home orders were declared in March. Increased isolation of victims has created an environment where abuse, including behavior that is considered coercive control, is more likely to go undetected and never unreported.

Domestic violence is interwoven with the challenges our communities faced pre-COVID-19 and now. The pandemic has only served to obscure what is happening behind closed doors. We will never return to the days of ignoring our sisters and brothers in need. We will no longer stay in the shadows and remain silent. 

That’s why we need all those who say ending domestic violence is a priority to stand with us today and pass SB 1141.  

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