Assembly Panel Approves Barnes, Spencer & Vainieri Huttle Bill Providing Relief for Victims of Gender Motivated Violence

Legislation sponsored by Assembly members Peter J. Barnes III, L. Grace Spencer and Valerie Vainieri Huttle that would provide an additional element of relief for women, and even men, who suffer at the hands of gender-motivated violence was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.

“Gender-motivated violence is still a real and pervasive threat for women,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “Victims may suffer for many years with the long-term ramifications of this violence, which are not always remedied by criminal prosecutions. This will provide an additional measure of relief for victims of these types of crimes.”

The bill (A-746) would create a civil cause of action for gender-motivated violence, allowing victims to be awarded actual damages, damages for emotional distress or punitive damages, injunctive relief, or any other appropriate relief. Additionally, a plaintiff who prevails in an action under the bill shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

“Victims of gender-based violence often see their lives shattered by the mental and physical trauma that can linger for years,” said Spencer (D-Essex/Union). “Sometimes the effects require medical treatment, therapy, relocation, or any number of other actions. By creating a civil compensation element, victims will have an additional means to pick up the pieces of their life and move on.”

The bill was modeled after the federal “Violence Against Women Act” as well as similar statutes in California and Illinois which provide for a cause of action for gender-motivated violence.

“Ordinarily, a victim of gender violence would have to pursue, potentially, three different legal remedies while trying to cope with emotional and physical trauma,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Rather than subjecting a victim to a lengthy and cumbersome legal process, this bill essentially creates a more efficient mechanism for them to pursue justice and redress.”

Under the bill, “gender-motivated violence” can mean any of the following: (1) one or more acts that would constitute a criminal offense under the laws of this state that has as an element of use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, committed at least in part based on the gender of the victim, whether or not those acts have resulted in criminal complaints, charges, prosecution, or conviction; or (2) a physical intrusion or physical invasion of a sexual nature under coercive conditions, whether or not those acts have resulted in criminal complaints, charges, prosecution, or conviction.

Under the bill, the civil action must commence within two years after the cause of action occurred, except if the victim was a minor at the time the action occurred, then the civil action must be commenced within two years after the person reaches the age of 18.

The bill does not require a prior criminal complaint, prosecution or conviction to establish a cause of action. The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.