The legislation would expand coverage for survivors of domestic violence under the City’s code to include abusive behaviors that interfere with another person’s free will and personal liberty.
PHILADELPHIA—Today, Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large) introduced legislation to amend the City’s code to provide protections for individuals affected by coercive control, including employment discrimination, employment leave, and housing protections. The legislation is co-sponsored by 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).
Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse that can take a number of forms, including controlling another person’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, or access to services. It can also include manipulating the other person by force, threat of force, or intimidation, including threats based on immigration status. The legislation expands the definition of domestic violence and domestic abuse in several sections of the City code to cover these often-overlooked forms of abuse, ensuring survivors have access to paid sick leave use, renter protections, and protections from employment discrimination.
The legislation is inspired by Brooks’ cousin, Tianna Thompson, who was murdered by her partner eight years ago yesterday, March 24, 2013. During today’s City Council session, Brooks recounted a story where Tiana had run into another family member of hers who had a black eye and encouraged her to escape her abuser, something that she was not able to do herself. A few days later, Tianna was murdered, but the family member never went back to her abuser. Brooks noted that the legislation is in honor of Tianna’s memory, and all those whose circumstances make it impossible to leave their abusers.
“This legislation is in honor of my late cousin and the thousands of people in Philadelphia each year who endure domestic violence and urgently need these protections,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “Coercive control is a form of abuse that often leads to more deadly forms of violence. My hope is that by expanding these critical employment and housing protections to those affected by coercive control, we can prevent domestic violence from escalating and restore some of the power back to survivors.”
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 abuse. 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 and resulting increased time spent at home 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.”
“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”