Jennifer Magnano, Jessica Rosenbeck David Magnano and Emily Thiebault. (With permission from Jessica Rosenbeck)

Survivors, experts and the children of a woman who was killed by her husband in 2007 are opposing attempts to erase references to a domestic violence bill that was nicknamed “Jennifers’ Law.” 

The original bill that would expand the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control died in committee but pieces of the legislation were included in another bill that eventually passed the committee. That bill is awaiting further action in the Senate. 

More than 100 domestic violence survivors, including actress Evan Rachel Wood and the children of Jennifer Magnano, who was slain after being required to show up in court for custody proceedings, testified in favor of the bill during a public hearing last month. 

At the time, the bill was known as Jennifers’ Law, named by its sponsor, Sen. Alex Kasser, D-Greenwich, after Magnano and Jennifer Dulos, who went missing while embroiled in a two-year acrimonious divorce and custody battle. It was also meant to refer to all other women who have been similarly victimized.

In the following days, the legislation was merged with a separate proposed law favored by domestic violence providers with legislative leaders dropping the name honoring Jennifer Dulos and Magnano before it came up for a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

The final name of the bill has not been decided since it passed as SB 1091 under an unrelated title.

Now Wood, Magnano’s children and experts in the field of domestic violence who helped shape Jennifers’ Law, want the updated legislation to retain its name.

“This move to strike the name Jennifer from the law adds salt to the gaping wound felt by so many victims and shows the petty nature of any legislator who would go out of their way to make such a change,” said David Magnano who was 15 when his father shot and killed his mother as he watched in horror. “Having a name, such as Jennifers’ Law, associated with this legislation humanizes the needs of so many voiceless victims in a way that no random sequence of letters and ever could.”

David Magnano’s sisters Jessica Rosenbeck and Emily Thiebault, called the attempt to rename the legislation “an insult” and “deeply offensive.”

Jennifer Magnano had fled her abusive husband with her children but was required to appear in court in person. Her husband, Scott Magnano, killed her just feet away from her children when the family was required by the family court to return to the Terryville home she had fled.

SB 1091 which was voted out of the Judiciary Committee by a robust majority on April 8 strengthens the law put in place after Jennifer Magnano died which allows victims of domestic violence to appear in court proceedings in a separate location.

The proposed law also for the first time creates a definition of domestic violence that includes coercive control, which encompasses behaviors such as withholding resources to allow a person to live independently or leave the relationship, threats and intimidation, that would be applied to family court and custody cases.

The bill also provides for more legal representation for victims at the five judicial districts that see the most requests for restraining orders: Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury and Hartford. It sets a standard for “vexatious litigation” – a common tactic used by abusers in court proceedings, and it defines what judges need to consider in custody cases including allegations of domestic violence. 

Kasser began work on the bill after the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos in May of 2019. Jennifer Dulos sought a restraining order in 2017 when she left her husband. But the evidence she submitted didn’t fall under the category of physical abuse so a judge denied her request, even though she said she was afraid of her husband and told the court he had chased her out of the house and threatened her when she refused to sign a custody agreement.

Her remains have not been found. Dulos left behind five children who are now in the care of her 85-year-old mother. Police charged Fotis Dulos with her disappearance and murder about 18 months later. He attempted suicide and died within three weeks of his arrest.

During her work on the bill Kasser pulled in international experts Laura Richards, the former head of the Homicide Prevention Unit at New Scotland Yard and the architect of coercive control law reform in the United Kingdom, and Evan Stark, who coined the term “coercive control” and brought to light its impact on victims.

“This bill is pioneering and enshrines the definition of coercive control in law, making the abuse visible for the first time in Connecticut,” Richards said in a press release issued by Connecticut Protective Moms opposing the name change. “But attempts to erase the names of the women the bill was conceived from is truly shocking.”

“Dozens of domestic violence survivors risked retaliation and harm to testify in support of Jennifers’ Law,” Wood said. “Some even testified from hiding because telling their stories creates real danger. We call on legislators to honor all victims of domestic violence, including those who have not survived, by retaining the name of the legislation.”