The entrance to Los Angeles Superior Court's Stanley Mosk Courthouse is shown, with three robed stone figures above the doorway.

‘I Was Not Allowed to Have My Own Thoughts’: California Courts Start Penalizing Psychological Domestic Abuse

While not all California judges are sympathetic to the stories of intimate partners who claim emotional abuse, and some even exhibit misogynistic conduct, others have shown an interest in using new legal tools to give the benefit of the doubt to people who say they are victims.

In a Los Angeles-area case, a judge acknowledged the evolving understanding of domestic violence to include psychological abuse, and extensively cited the state’s new coercive control law in his ruling.

A white woman with blond hair stands on a lawn in front of the water, with a city skyline in the background.

Expanding View of Domestic Violence Gives Survivors New Tool, but Unsympathetic Judges Remain an Obstacle

A California law enacted in 2021 allows domestic violence victims to claim coercive control — a broad range of behaviors including humiliation, surveillance, intimidation, gaslighting and isolation that strips an intimate partner of a sense of autonomy and personhood.

Experts in domestic violence say judicial skepticism of abuse victims, often with misogynistic overtones, has long been widespread in U.S. family court, creating dangerous hurdles to justice. The expanded conception of domestic violence on paper is of limited use if judges continue to cast a skeptical eye on testimony, usually from women, of manipulation within intimate relationships.

A woman facing away from the camera cleans a stovetop and range.

How California’s Coercive Control Law Could Help Women Manipulated by Partners

Blanca suffered decades of psychological abuse from her husband, whose behaviors fall under a category of abuse sociologists and family law experts call coercive control.

Under a California law passed in 2020, the government is finally offering some acknowledgment of the harm she experienced. But the reform applies only in civil court — and can be used only in limited types of cases.

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How an infamous Berkeley human trafficking case fueled reform

Advocates for increased prison terms say 10-year-old sex trafficking case changed conversation
This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. (Read in Spanish at La Opiñon/Impremedia. Leer en español en La Opiñon/Impremedia.)
Lakireddy Balireddy shocked the Bay Area a decade ago when investigators discovered how the Berkeley landlord transported young women and girls from India for sex. He served eight years in prison. His case still inspires reformers who want to put human traffickers away for longer.This year’s campaign to get tougher anti-trafficking laws on the November ballot as a voter initiative is the latest attempt to deal with what proponents call the unfinished business of legal reform.