Domestic Violence Law Reform USA
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We are campaigning for domestic violence laws to be strengthened and modernised in the USA to reflect the reality of domestic abuse in all it's guises and better protect women and girls. We are a group of survivors, campaigners, activists and experts. We know this will save lives and money.
Prior to the pioneering coercive control law in England and Wales, only 3 out of every 100 men reported for domestic violence were convicted and almost none were jailed (Fontes and Stark 2017). Abusers reported for 50 or more offences were no more likely to be punished than those who committed a single offence (Fontes and Stark 2017). The same injustices occur in the USA with the same victims and perpetrators repeatedly reporting to Police and other front-line professionals. Many blame the victims for “staying” rather than focusing on the abuser and their abusive behaviour. Most wait for an assault with clear evidence before acting and the police and court system continue to trivialise and minimise the abuse.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
Despite all the resources allocated to domestic violence, most professionals do not understand coercive control and as a consequence US victims and their children remain unsafe and at risk because their abusive partners are not held accountable.
THE FACTS AND EVIDENCE
Between 2000-2006, 3200 American soldiers were killed in combat. During that same period, more than three times as many women died at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends (Rachel Louise Snyder 2019)
- One woman is murdered every 16 hours in the US by a current or former partner.
- Some of the most dangerous cases happen when domestic violence, stalking and coercive control co-occur.
- These 'murders in slow motion' are preventable. Early identification and intervention is vital to saving lives and saving money.
THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE FOR A WOMAN AND CHILDREN IS THE HOME.
Currently, domestic violence laws focus on and respond to individual incidents according to the level of physical harm. Consequently, coercive control, where frequent low-level violence is accompanied by the other tactics, has no legal standing. Few elements of coercive control are currently considered criminal, or are only crimes when committed against strangers.
WAKE UP CALL: COERCIVE CONTROL SIGNIFICANTLY CORRELATES WITH MURDER
The domestic homicide rate has doubled in New York. Most of these cases, if not all, are coercive control cases. Many women do not report as they know there is little point and when they do 95% of the reported cases have no injury, and so they are treated as low level (Stark 2017). A prosecution or conviction are rare, and plea bargaining commonplace.
We must look beyond the bruises. Domestic violence is not just about assault. The cumulative effect of 1000 cuts is devastating. Many women do not report until the behaviour has escalated and there may be injuries. For many this is too late.
Criminalising these forms of intimate partner violence would send a powerful signal and give victims confidence to come forward earlier, leading to early intervention and prevention.
JENNIFER MAGNANO and her three children Jessica, David and Emily had to live by the rules set by her husband, Scott. There were rules about bathing, vacuuming, eating and even shovelling snow. These rules were grounded in fear. If a rule was broken there would be a serious consequence. Jennifer felt if she stayed he would kill her, and, if she left, he would kill her. He said he would kill her whenever there was a domestic murder reported in the news - and she believed him.
Jennifer escaped with her three children and the help of her best friend one night having reported the abuse and child sexual abuse to the police. Despite this, Scott used the family court to track her down and get custody of the children. Jennifer was forced to go back to the family court and he used the finances to continue to control her. She returned to the family home, where he lay in wait for her, and he shot her dead in front of the children. He was true to his word #HerNameWasJenniferMagnano
Jessica, Jennifer's daughter said: "It just became a lot about rules, before the violence. There were rules about washing our hands, how often, how long, the water had to be a certain temperature. The way we had to wipe our feet, you could just come in the house and throw off the shoes, you had to do it this certain way, and you had to brush off your sock before you put your shoe on. He was strict about everything, but not strict in like a normal sense, like it didn’t make sense, we weren’t allowed to do a lot of typical childhood things."
On reporting: "I just got this sense that it was as if we called and reported that somebody knocked our mailbox over, it just didn’t seem to resonate. What we were telling them didn’t seem that important somehow. If someone tells you that they are in fear of their lives and they give you this detailed account - and we just wouldn’t be taken seriously, and look what happened. We never really had a sense that we were being helped."
Sadly, Jennifer's case is not uncommon. On average it takes a victim seven times to successfully leave an abuser. Many blame, judge and shame the victim and see going back as a character or personality deficit, as it if is a choice, which it is not.
Interestingly, it is only after separation that very same behaviour which was exerted in the relationship, control, is then criminalised: we call it stalking. Therefore the moment of ‘break-up’ becomes legally meaningful yet separation can be the most dangerous time for women.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS COERCIVE CONTROL?
A strategic course of conduct in which violence, sexual coercion, intimidation, isolation and control are used to dominate and exploit and deprive of basic rights and resources.
The abuser’s behavioural strategy of coercive control is utter domination. Rules and regulations, with fear of consequence, keep a victim controlled by invisible chains. Examples include:
• Unreasonable and non-negotiable demands;
• Surveillance, monitoring and unwanted contact in the relationship;
• Isolation - destroying the partner’s other relationships and isolating her/him from friends, family members, co-workers and others;
• Restricting daily activities including bathroom use, use of medication, sleep, food;
• Coercion – a combination of demands, threats of negative consequences for noncompliance, using the children;
• Manipulation through minimisation, denial, lies, promises, etc.
• Threats and intimidation;
• Excuses, rationalisations and blame;
• Stifling the partner’s independence and freedom of choice;
• Controlling partner’s access to information and services;
• Sexual abuse and violence; reproductive coercion;
• Economic control and exploitation.
We must seize every opportunity to strengthen laws to better protect victims – adults and children. There is a proven link between domestic abuse and child abuse. Jennifer and her children's case is not unique. Children are often coercively controlled and abused too – by the same abuser. The impact on the child(ren) has serious, long lasting consequence.
Jennifer Magnano was shot dead in front of her children. Emily, her daughter says has to live with the invisible bruises for the rest of her life:
"My dad was conniving, manipulative, and degrading. He had no regard for others’ feelings or their lives in any way. He scared me, my brother and sister so much just by walking into the room. We were constantly paralyzed by the fear of making him mad, because we knew that he was just moments away from snapping and anything that we said or did could set him off."
HELP US HELP OTHERS. No child should grow up in this environment or witness what Emily did.
Police, prosecutors and the judiciary must have the best possible tools to do their job to keep victims and their children safe in their homes, the very place where they should feel safe. It's time for the laws to evolve and be modernised.
CALL TO ACTION
Please show your support:
1. SIGN the petition
2. WRITE to your senator pledging your support for Senator Kevin Parker's Coercive Control Bill in New York and requesting that they support it.
3. COMPLETE the Victim's Voice Survey if you are a victim of domestic abuse. It will take 2 minutes:
Laura Richards on behalf of The Campaign to End Coercive Control, US
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