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‘Husky pack’ helped pass a lifesaving domestic abuse bill and this Northeastern University graduate and advocate led the way

Last week, Carmen Aliber watched her effort to expand the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive control be signed into law by Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey. 

Multiple people pose in front of flags for a photo.
Carmen Aliber (second from right) with other members of the “Husky pack” who helped pass “An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation.” Photo by Joshua Qualls/Office of Gov. Maura Healey

Northeastern University graduate Carmen Aliber says she never sought out to be an advocate for legislation. But she also never sought out to be a victim of domestic abuse. 

Yet Aliber was determined to rise to meet the challenges before her. 

Last week, that determination paid off as Aliber watched her effort to expand the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive control be signed into law by Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey. 

Aliber credited Northeastern.

“We had the power of the Northeastern Husky pack,” says Aliber, who graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in 2013 and a master’s degree in 2016. 

Aliber cited several Huskies who were instrumental to the legislation — from graduates and professors at the university’s School of Law who helped her organize and develop the eventual bill; from legislators who shepherded the bill quickly through Beacon Hill; to Healey, who signed the bill into law.

“It was by chance that so many of us leading this legislative effort were graduates of Northeastern,” Aliber continues. “But I do believe that our collective learnings and takeaways from our time at Northeastern have instilled in us skills to work collaboratively and to live and work with a purpose to make this world a better place.”

Aliber has spent her life advocating for others whether through social justice causes, advocating for education, or advancing the needs of the homeless. 

“Others describe me as an organizer and connector of people,” Aliber says. “When I see something that isn’t right, I use my voice for change.”

As a survivor of domestic abuse, she realized that laws needed to change.

“I discovered that our law protected the tormentor, not the tormented,” Aliber says. “I set out to change that.

In June 2022, Aliber began networking with other survivors and connected with her state representatives to discuss the need to protect survivors, focusing on expanding the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control. 

Coercive control is a pattern of behavior intended to threaten, intimidate, harass, isolate, control, coerce or compel compliance of a family or household member that causes fear or a reduced sense of physical safety or autonomy.

Aliber says coercive control can include stalking and psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, financial, legal and technological manipulation meant to isolate, intimidate and take away an intimate partner’s personal autonomy and freedom.

“Coercive control is the foundation of all forms of domestic abuse,” Aliber says. 

Aliber notes, however, that coercive control is “a less visible but equally destructive” form of domestic abuse.

“One of our early challenges was helping legislators understand that not all abuse is visible, and it is often the invisible strikes that bear the deepest scars,” Aliber says. 

So, to educate lawmakers, Aliber organized a book drop at the Statehouse. She and fellow advocates visited the offices of all 200 elected state legislators and hand-delivered a book on overcoming coercive control in intimate relationships.

Soon after, Aliber met two instrumental fellow Huskies: School of Law graduates Hema Sarang-Sieminski, deputy director of Jane Doe Inc., and Jamie Sabino, deputy director of advocacy at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. 

“Our team of a few grew to a force of many,” Aliber says.

More Huskies soon joined the effort. 

But I do believe that our collective learnings and takeaways from our time at Northeastern have instilled in us skills to work collaboratively and to live and work with a purpose to make this world a better place.

Carmen Aliber, graduate at Northeastern University

At a university event in October 2022, Aliber met James Hackney, dean of the Northeastern University School of Law. Connections with leaders from the law school’s Domestic Violence Institute followed.

“The best way for me to help Carmen was to add my voice and specific experience in the courts as a lawyer and an educator of future lawyers about the gaps in the statute,” says attorney Margo Lindauer, a Northeastern law school professor.

“Through my many years of representation, advocacy and teaching, I have been acutely aware of how narrow the statute was and how abuse was defined in a very limiting way,” Lindauer continues. “For survivors who lived with ongoing emotional abuse — and coercion/isolation among other things — that pain was never adequately captured in the statute.”

A few months later in January 2023, state Reps. Natalie Higgins and Tram Nguyen — both Northeastern School of Law graduates as well — sponsored a bill on Beacon Hill to expand the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive control. 

“The Husky influence continued,” Aliber says.

But having a bill filed and seeing a bill passed are two very different things. 

Aliber says she was told to expect it to take 10 to 20 years for the bill to pass. 

“Being a legislative neophyte, and admittedly laser-focused on everything I set my goals on, I ignored the naysayers and was determined to see this bill passed sooner rather than later,” Aliber says. “As a survivor of coercive control abuse, I seek to spare others from my experience.”

The advocates launched Together Rising Above Coercion (TRAC), a statewide coalition of survivors, allies and agencies to push legislation to address the harms of coercive control and abusive litigation, a form of coercive control, in June 2023. 

“What TRAC has shown to be true is that survivors need a multi-disciplinary approach to effectively address its multifaceted complexities,” said Shaquera Robinson, CEO and founder of Shaquera’s Story Domestic Violence Consulting and Coaching, Inc. and a founding member of TRAC. 

“TRAC not only seeks to provide room for survivors’ voices at the table, but also encourages the legal system to engage and foster meaningful relationships between those who are forced to navigate its systems and the stakeholders who make the decisions that ultimately form disproportionate results across all sectors.”

On June 20, 2023, Aliber also broke her silence — sharing with state legislators her own experience with domestic abuse.

“I felt guided by Northeastern’s motto: Lux, Veritas, Virtus (light, truth, courage),” Aliber says. “By shining my light and sharing my truth, I hope to empower others with the courage needed to reclaim their freedom.”

Exactly one year later, Healey signed “An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation,” which expanded the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive control and outlawed “revenge porn,” or the non-consensual sharing of nude images — something that Aliber notes is a specific form of coercive control.

State Senate President Karen Spilka was by Healey’s side. 

“You guessed it, both Northeastern University School of Law graduates,” Aliber says.

Healey says the bill will save lives. She adds that Northeastern creates leaders who are “committed to their community and not afraid to speak up and be advocates.”

“I think about Northeastern, and I think about Northeastern values, and I think about my own experience at Northeastern where it is a place about justice about making life better,” Healey says. “You’ve got a university that is really at the forefront of innovation and leadership, and leadership in solving challenging problems.”

“This legislation in particular would not have happened were it not for the advocates and the survivors and people like Aliber who were willing to be out there, telling their story and working to advocate and to get this done,” Healey continued.

Aliber was at the signing too. 

She says watching the bill signed into law was “a dream come true” and “surreal.”

“For two years, I dreamed of this day coming,” Aliber says. “Whereas I thought I would be euphoric, I surprisingly found myself crying tears of joy and relief when Governor Healey’s pen touched the paper.”

“My experience and that of thousands of other survivors, proved to be a catalyst for a law that will protect others from domestic abuse,” Aliber continues. “While I would never wish to relive my journey, the outcome validated that when we break our silence and slay the shame and stigma of abuse, our experience can bring hope, healing and help to others.”