WAAV 2024

THE WAKEFIELD ALLIANCE AGAINST VIOLENCE had a float in this year’s July Fourth parade. From the left are. Carmen Aliber, Jean Yentile, Merry Eldridge and Joie Gerrish.

WAKEFIELD – Last month Gov. Maura Healey signed into law legislation to protect victims of domestic violence by expanding the definition of abuse to include coercive control. Wakefield Alliance Against Violence (WAAV) vice president Jean Yentile said, “WAAV applauds the dedication of local survivors, advocates, allies, and legislators in advancing this bill as it has the potential to break generational cycles of abuse and save lives.”  

Massachusetts is now the seventh state in the nation to expand its definition of domestic abuse to include coercive control, an insidious form of abuse where perpetrators use threats, intimidation, isolation, stalking, and other manipulative tactics to maintain control over and force compliance of an intimate partner, spouse, or family member. 

Abuse comes in many forms—psychological, financial, legal, technological, sexual, and physical. Non-physical abuse is typically a precursor to more serious and violent abuse and homicide. By expanding legal protections for victims, the law can halt the escalation and generational harm caused by coercive control. 

The new law will allow victims to obtain restraining orders for non-physical forms of abuse and will criminalize the non-consensual sharing of explicit images (known as “revenge porn”, which is a form of coercive control). The law also creates a diversion program for teens who share explicit images and addresses abuse using deepfake technology and artificial intelligence. 

WAAV president, Joie Gerrish, said, “WAAV has been committed to helping our community, schools, and families understand and respond to youth violence, bullying, cyberbullying, and teen dating violence. We are happy to see this law include an educational component for teens that addresses the immediate and long-term consequences of abuse, sexting, and revenge porn.” 

The attorney general, in consultation with district attorneys, coalitions, and state agencies, will develop and oversee a comprehensive educational diversion program to address the issue of “sexting”, which involves using technology to share sexual messages and images. The educational program will provide adolescents with information about the consequences for possessing or disseminating sexual material in violation of the law. Consequences range from legal and relational to the loss of educational, extracurricular, and employment opportunities and can have a lifetime negative affect on both the perpetrator and victim. 

State agencies and departments—including  the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Youth Services, and the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence—will assist in developing the program curriculum and annually assessing its effectiveness. School districts will be encouraged to implement instruction in age-appropriate media literacy skills at all grade levels, including in core subjects. Educational material from the diversion program will be made available to school districts for use. 

Yentile said that her advocacy for this law is personal as she has seen loved ones suffer the harms of coercive control. “Two years ago, I sat in a coffee shop with two survivors discussing the toll that domestic abuse takes on families. We resolved to turn our anger into action. Today we celebrate a new law that will protect others from the harmful form of abuse known as coercive control.”

An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation was signed into law by Gov. Maura Healey on June 20, 2024. The law goes into effect 90 days thereafter. From anger to action, the law will protect survivors and save lives. 

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Wakefield Alliance Against Violence, or WAAV, is a community-based volunteer organization dedicated to creating a lifestyle free from violence in Wakefield by reaching out to the community, raising awareness, providing education resources, and support to families and individuals, with an emphasis on prevention. For more information, visit https://waavonline.org/.