Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Peace: Coercive Control and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act
Pallavi Dhawan is the Director of Domestic Violence Policy for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. Her office sponsored California Senate Bill 1141, legislation that adds coercive control to the definition of domestic violence within the Family Code. She is a Fulbright Specialist in the fields of domestic violence and child abuse and a 2019 recipient of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s award for Prosecutor of the Year.
Most organizations recognize that domestic violence is a "systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another."1 However, the law has been slower to align with the literature and has mostly defined domestic violence according to physical injury. One notable exception in California is Family Code section 6203(b) which contains specific language noting that domestic abuse is not limited to the infliction of physical injury or assault.2 Section 6320 goes further in listing behaviors a court may enjoin through a domestic violence restraining order, including disturbing the peace of the protected party.3 Disturbing the peace, however, is not defined in the statute. In criminal law, disturbing the peace is a public disruption, such as an unlawful fight in a public place or the malicious and willful disturbance of another through loud and unreasonable noise.4 In contrast, disturbing the peace has historically been defined in the Family Code as conduct which disturbs the mental or emotional calm of another party.5