Public Policy

DVAC is sought after for its perspectives on a variety of things… One of them is Public Policy and System Reform.

With continued vigilance and devotion to strengthening a system that is effective and responsive to the needs of those survivors and island families who rely on it for support, DVAC works within the community to offer ideas, review practices, make suggestions.

It is our belief that this work needs everyone’s attention. There is a role for every sector to play. Many voices and collective spirit will bring about change. It always does. If you would like to submit your online testimony, please click on the link below for instructions:

https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/docs/testimonyinstructions.pdf


We are proceeding with the support of several bills in 2022 that will favorably impact survivors (adults and children) who have suffered the harm of abuse.

Below you’ll find a short statement about the Bill, and the reason the Bill is needed. Also included is language that can be used in testimony. Bill numbers and hearing notices will be forthcoming when they are received. You’ll find the corresponding links below each one. Thank you for providing affirmative testimony – online is real easily done!

  1. Relating to Child Custody Evaluators SB 2397 HB 1851 for Best Interest Fact Finders and Custody Evaluators in family court cases with domestic violence. It is not uncommon for them to be unfamiliar with the power and control wheel, which is fundamental to understanding domestic violence dynamics. These court-appointed individuals make factual findings and recommendations that directly influence the judge’s decisions in the case.

Purpose: A lack of training interferes with appropriate recommendations that Courts rely on. All professionals whose work impacts safety and wellbeing of children and families with cases before Family Court need to understand the dynamics of domestic violence. It is often not identified at the outset of a case, or the reason for an evaluation. Therefore, knowledge about its lethality, subtlety and prevalence is important for Best Interest fact Finders and Custody Evaluators.

Language for Testimony:
It is very important for children’s experiences to be understood by those making assessments and recommendations for courts to consider, when making custody decisions.

Custody evaluators are appointed to explore the circumstances of the household, parenting, safety and potential for appropriate development and well-being of children. It is our belief that without a clear understanding of the complexity and subtlety of abuse. This Bill establishes a requirement that custody evaluators participate in training about domestic violence. DVAC supports this Bill.

SB 2397

HB 1851


  1. Relating to Domestic Abuse SB 2643 HB 2465 Cease making automatic referrals to Child Protective Services (CPS) when a restraining order is sought by a survivor of partner abuse. When a parent takes a protective step like filing for a restraining order, there is no need to assume that the protective parent is not employing other strategies (and facing many obstacles) in her/his efforts to create safety for the family. This does not interfere with Judge’s discretion to order an investigation or involve CWS. A referral to Child Protective Services is unnecessary, burdens the system and can potentially create a chilling effect for survivors, who would prefer CPS not be involved in their family.

Purpose: Seeking a restraining order is undeniably a protective step by a parent who has suffered the harm of abuse and is concerned about their children. It is not necessary to make an automatic referral for CWS intervention/investigation. When warranted, Judges can make a discretionary judgment that an investigation is needed to assure the safety or children and the services needed by children or family members to improve safety and wellbeing.

Language for Testimony: A protective parent, who has suffered the harm of abuse, may seek the court’s assistance in getting safe and keeping children safe. When a parent asks the court for a protection order, it can be seen as a protective step. And unless there are circumstances warranting an investigation, a referral to Child Welfare Services is redundant, burdens the system, frightens the parent, and may adversely impact the children.

SB 2643

HB 2465


  1. Relating to Coercive Control SB 2395 HB 2192 Abusers are using the Family Court system to continue their abuse of the victim and the court is blindly allowing it. Litigation abuse should be included or a part of the new recognition of ‘coercive control’ as abuse This Bill will be introduced with the litigation abuse section in the Senate version. House version will be more limited to coercive control as it pertains to child custody.  [LITIGATION ABUSE can be considered  A FACTOR FOR THE COURTS TO DETERMINE when granting RESTRAINING ORDERS, and making decisions about CHILD CUSTODY,

Purpose: It is not uncommon for perpetrators to use the court system to further their abuse, exhausting financial resources, wielding control over the survivor’s time and emotional resources, and demonstrate their power to control their partner in this way. Litigation abuse should be included in the definition of coercive control. When child custody is under consideration, Courts should also be aware that coercive control is a tactic that has been used by perpetrators to harm their partner and children’s wellbeing. When Courts are evaluating the best and safest way to issue custody orders, acts of coercive control should be included in the analysis.

Language for Testimony: The challenges inherent in escaping, resolving partnership conflicts (property, needs and safety of children) and healing from the trauma experienced as a survivor are subtle (sometimes) and overwhelming. The many tactics used to maintain power over a partner can be difficult for an “outsider” to observe. Coercive control is a pattern of behavior that can be aimed at continuing to control a partner even after the relationship has ended, and the children bind them together. Abusive partners will use the courts and the system to continue their pattern of abuse-bringing multiple motions, asking for multiple continuances, stalling or being unwilling to bring the court cases to conclusion. This is abuse. Litigation abuse. It creates untold anguish and terror for the victim survivor. This pattern of coercive control behavior should also be considered in the awarding of custody.

SB 2395

HB 2192


  1. Relating to Domestic Abuse SB 2396 HB 2209 Expand the definition of what constitutes abuse of a child: Minors may be considered to be victims of domestic abuse if the father, mother, or person responsible for the minor has engaged in acts that constitute domestic abuse in the presence of minors.  When a parent is petitioning the court for a restraining order, including the children on the order increases their safety and reduces any risks to non-offending parent and children. It affirms that children living in households where there is abuse taking place impacts children, even if they have not been the direct victims of abuse.

Purpose: The literature and the community discourse about the impact of abuse on children is definitive (the impact varies based on level of abuse, attachment to protective parent). It would be an act of support and prevention to have the definition of what constitutes abuse, in terms of seeking a restraining order, to include awareness of abuse by children. The children do not have to be in the room, or even in the house at the time of any assault or abusive behavior. The bruises, fear, implied intimidation, and other environmental factors have an effect on children. Minors can be considered victims of domestic violence -without being “hit” themselves but living in an environment where their mother/parent/caregiver is being hurt by their other parent.

Language for Testimony: The life altering experience of living in a home where there is violence cannot be overlooked. Children must have their safety, mental health and full potential for personal development protected. There is no room for pretense that children don’t know or feel what is going on. Fear, tension and uncertainty are destabilizing for children. Supporting children as they are growing is important for laying a strong foundation for their future. The alternative is more costly and traumatizing for communities.

SB 2396

HB 2209


  • Relating to Family  SB 2642 HB 2211Currently, only in divorce cases an exemption to mediation is permitted when domestic violence exists.  A waiver of the requirement to participate in mediation was included in the divorce statute many years ago, because mediation rests on the fundamental principle that a balanced negotiation can take place. When there has been domestic violence, the power imbalance makes it impossible to negotiate. Victims have been harmed and silenced in the relationship; under such circumstances, negotiation would be difficult, if not impossible. 

Purpose: The Hawaii divorce statute provides for a waiver of the requirement that parties must first go to mediation to settle the matters of the divorce, when there has been domestic violence. Many partners do not consummate their relationship through marriage but cohabit and have children in common. If there is abuse occurring in the household and issues of custody must be resolved when the relationship ends, and arrangements are made for visitation or custody, the paternity statute should have the same provision to exclude from the requirement to participate in mediation -when there has been domestic violence- as the divorce statute has.

Language for Testimony: An exemption for those pursuing resolution of issues related to children/property when a paternity case is filed is a good idea. Domestic violence impacts those who are married and those who share children in common. Mediation is not the right intervention for resolving the dispute when there has been domestic violence. Power imbalance and the unlikely path to negotiation interfere with this otherwise useful conflict resolution tool.

SB 2642

HB 2211


  • Minors and Protective Orders SB 2394  HB 1850  The Bill allows for another adult to assist the teen in petitioning the court for protection through a restraining order.

Purpose: It is not uncommon for teens to keep private the details or difficulty they may be having in their relationships. Parents sometimes don’t want their youth to date, or advised against a particular relationship, or don’t approve of the relationship. If the teen gets in trouble, and their relationship becomes abusive, they may not feel they can go to the parent for assistance. If they have other trusted adult in their life (counselor at school, teen advocate) that person could assist them in obtaining a restraining order, if such a tool would be for their safety and the best next step for their protection.

Language for Testimony: Youth need options. If they have suffered the harm of abuse at the hands of a partner, and are not able to rely on the supportive involvement of a parent or family caregiver, it is not appropriate to deny them options for safety. Taking a proactive and frightening step is brave and requires support from a trusted adult. Youth have trusted adults in their school settings and in their community.

Let us make it possible for them to receive that support.

SB 2394

HB 1850