Domestic violence advocates work to help ‘unseen victims of the pandemic’

Domestic Violence Awareness

Conn. (WTNH) — Domestic violence was especially prevalent during the pandemic lockdown.

The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) said 40,000 cases of domestic violence were reported last year.

That does not account for the untold number of cases that went unreported because victims lived in fear.

In March 2020, the Fair Haven neighborhood in New Haven witnessed the loss of two beautiful lives: Alessia Mesquita and Dwaneia Turner. Both were fatally shot by partners.

Neither woman had ever reported physical abuse.

“What’s your worst-case scenario, your nightmare, having to be confined with your abuser,” said State Representative Holly Cheeseman. The lawmaker has been an advocate for victims’ rights for years.

Advocates said the expansion of state laws around domestic violence is a long time coming.

CCADV President Meghan Scanlon said the law now includes the definition of coercive control.

“It’s a crucial way of how we address domestic violence moving forward,” Scanlon said.

Coercive control is any non-physical behavior, from isolation and intimidation to threatening cruelty to animals. Showing a purposeful pattern like text messages, emails and financial documentation are all proof.

“We do know and not just in the Jennifer Dulos case, but in other cases that have been around the state including Alessia Mesquita’s and Dwaneia Turner’s in New Haven, we know there were periods of time, patterns of coercive behavior… before the physical,” Scanlon added.

Jennifer Farber Dulos disappeared in 2019. She was never found. Her now-deceased husband was charged with her murder. He took his own life.

State Senator and Senate President Martin Looney said there was a gap in the system.

“Judges were unable to take into account matters that would amount to coercion that was not physical abuse. In many cases, you had psychological control and other kinds of intimidation going on,” Looney said.

Coercive control is now also a factor in deciding child custody cases.

Another change involves allowing victims to access grant dollars to hire a lawyer so they can apply for a restraining order. A spouse’s income is not included in the equation.

“Finances are very often a reason why people hesitate to leave,” Rep. Cheeseman said. “There are ways to exercise one’s power over a partner that has nothing to do with actually striking a blow.”

“If they would have been able to access this restraining order program, it could have made a difference,” Scanlon said.

CCADV said 33% of victims killed by a partner were never physically harmed. But under the surface, there was a pattern of emotional abuse.

292 people have been killed during the last two decades by intimate partner violence. 87% of them were women.

Cheeseman said it is ultimately about saving lives.

“There are many unseen victims of this pandemic and I think for many, those unseen victims included those who are subject to domestic violence and abuse and we need to make sure we help them.”

The coalition is working with judges and lawyers to learn more and continue to fight for the rights of victims. They are looking into how abusers use technology to follow and control victims. It is an area they want to try and regulate.

If you need help or know someone who does, click here or call the hotline at 1-888-774-2900.

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