COUNCIL EXPANDS PROTECTIONS FOR SURVIVORS OF COERCIVE CONTROL

In Council News, Kendra Brooks, News by PHL Council

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The bill expands the definition of domestic violence in the City code to ensure survivors have access to paid sick leave, renter protections, and protection from employment discrimination.

PHILADELPHIA—Today, City Council passed a bill that would extend critical protections for victims of coercive control in the areas of housing, paid leave use, and employment. The bill, introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), will help survivors of coercive control connect with the services and protections they need to keep themselves and their families safe and stop abuse from escalating to more deadly forms of violence. The legislation amassed widespread support from City Council and passed with a vote of 16-1.

Coercive control refers to a pattern of abusive behaviors that limit another person’s safety and freedoms through manipulation, threats, force, intimidation, or access to services. While this form of domestic violence is not always visible, it poses a real and immediate risk to victims who may be isolated from friends and family, in danger due to their immigration status, or cut off from financial and social supports. By expanding employment and housing protections to those affected by coercive control, the legislation aims to break the cycle of violence and restore power back to survivors.

“Eight years ago, we lost a beautiful, kind, and caring person to domestic violence—my cousin, Tianna,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “It is incredibly meaningful to pass this bill today, on what would have been her 38th birthday. So many survivors of abuse do not speak out because of fear, stigma, or shame, or because their abuse does not align with what people normally think of when they think of domestic violence. It is an honor to say loudly and clearly to all survivors out there today: you matter and your experiences matter. You are more than the worst thing that has happened to you and help is available.”

Domestic violence in Philadelphia is a public health crisis that impacts people across lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability, but is uniquely difficult for people who lack stable income and housing, which can limit survivors’ ability to escape. According to Women Against Abuse, more than 100,000 9-1-1 calls each year in Philadelphia report instances of domestic violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this public health crisis, with organizations like Women Against Abuse seeing a 30% increase in calls to their domestic violence hotline.

“We look forward to being part of a conversation in Philadelphia that has been happening in other jurisdictions across the country and abroad about the complexity of the dynamics of domestic violence,” said Elise Scioscia, Chief of Staff at Women Against Abuse. “Too often, victims of domestic violence are unable to seek appropriate relief due to a narrow definition that focuses on physical abuse, without an understanding of the complete destruction that can occur from a pattern of manipulative actions and practices that takeaway agency and freedom from a victim. We look forward to working with City Council to identify opportunities to address this gap and provide additional support to people experiencing domestic violence in our community.”

The bill was co-sponsored Councilmembers Bobby Henon (6th District), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Helen Gym (At-Large), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large), Derek Green (At-Large), Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), Cherelle Parker (9th District), and Isaiah Thomas (At-Large).

“All survivors of domestic violence deserve protection, no matter what kind of abuse they have endured” said Councilmember Bobby Henon (6th District). “The pandemic has limited the ability for many to seek support and refuge outside of their homes, making this legislation even more urgent. Ensuring that individuals affected by coercive control have their rights protected at work and at home is a critical part of keeping our constituents safe and preventing further abuse.”

“Not all abuse is physical, and the City urgently needs to extend protections to victims of every form of abuse,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “We have a responsibility to send a message to survivors that we will support them as they seek safety and justice. That means protecting them from harm at the hands of their abuser, but also protecting them from employment and housing discrimination that can keep people trapped in unsafe relationships.”

“As a supporter of life-changing organizations like Women Against Abuse and others, I couldn’t be more proud to co-sponsor my colleague’s legislation expanding coercive control protections for individuals experiencing abuse,” said Councilmember Derek Green (At-Large). “The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the inability for people – primarily women – enduring domestic abuse to safely seek refuge for not just themselves, but oftentimes for their children. Everyone deserves to feel peace of mind and a sense of security at home and I will work with my colleagues to do whatever I can to make that a reality.”

“Domestic violence takes many forms, and we have seen throughout this pandemic that frighteningly many people are not safer at home,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large). “I want to thank my colleague, Councilmember Brooks, for her leadership on this crucial issue, and I’m proud to stand with her to expand protections for people under coercive control in Philadelphia.”

“Covid-19 and Stay-at-Home orders have made this legislation even more of an imperative,” said Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District). “Many of the abused have no place to run or hide from their abusers.”

“I’m proud to cosponsor Councilmember Brooks’ bill to support victims.” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At-Large). “We’ve heard too many stories of coercive and abusive behavior which has ramifications for victims in the form of housing loss, employment discrimination and more. This bill not only believes victims, it values and protects them”

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