Aiming to improve New Jersey’s response to sexual assault cases, several Assembly Democrats sponsor a bill package to provide support to victims, enhance reporting and communication, increase sexual assault/harassment training for professionals, and more. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Women and Children Committee on Tuesday.
“We often stress the importance of believing survivors. This package seeks to lay out the framework for not only believing survivors, but supporting and hearing them,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), first prime sponsor of each bill in the package. “These measures will create space for survivors to speak their truth to receive the support and respect they rightfully deserve. This package is about ensuring that our avenues to justice are safe and fair for survivors when they decide to seek recourse and justice.”
The legislative package is comprised of several bills addressing different aspects of the issue. One measure (A-4884/S-3070) would establish a ‘Sexual Violence Restorative Justice Pilot Program’ involving survivors to help restore a sense of control and independence, uphold principles of autonomy and emphasize outcomes essential to the healing process of survivors.
“Sexual violence is unfortunately far too prevalent in our society, affecting at least one in every five women and one in 71 men,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson). “With so many survivors in our state, we must make sure we provide them with the support they need to recover from their experience and take control of their lives.”
Similarly, another bill (A-4886/S-3072) would require certain information be given to victims of sexual assault, such as details pertaining to their rights, the criminal justice process, available mental health services, and how to get in touch with relevant law enforcement and advocacy contacts.
“It takes a lot of strength to work towards recovering from a traumatizing assault on one’s own body,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Having access to state resources and the support of fellow survivors throughout that process can make all the difference.”
“Reporting a sexual assault to the authorities and pursuing a case against the attacker can be a very stressful and complicated process,” said Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington). “Arming survivors with information about how it all works, how to obtain updates on their case and most importantly – how to access mental health and advocacy services – will help make the challenging process a little easier.”
Victims would be allowed to receive notification of the prosecutor’s decision regarding whether or not to file charges against an alleged perpetrator under A-4887/S-3073.
“Victims deserve the right to know whether charges will be brought against an attacker,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “If the case will not be tried by the prosecutor, knowing that decision can allow victims to take steps to avoid their abuser and seek emotional support.”
“Choosing to press charges against one’s rapist is a challenging and very personal decision each survivor must make for themselves,” said Assemblywoman Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “Finding ways to make the process more accommodating for the women and men who have been the victims of this terrible crime can help make that choice easier and hopefully begin to bring more perpetrators to justice.”
Additional legislation would require law enforcement to allow victims of sexual assault to review and submit corrections regarding their initial police statement (A-4885/S-3071) and require the Attorney General to audit sexual assault cases and issue an annual report on them (A-4888/S-3074).
“It is critical that sexual assault reporting is thoroughly reviewed and as accurate as possible,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex). “Giving victims the opportunity to request corrections of their initial police statement will help guarantee more factual reporting, while an annual audit and report on sexual assault cases in New Jersey will help give us a clearer picture of sexual violence throughout our state.”
Prosecutors would be required to complete sexual assault training under A-4890/S-3076 while A-4889/S-3075 would establish a sexual violence liaison officer in state and local police departments.
“Having someone specifically trained in sexual assault cases who can serve as an advisor and point-of-contact for law enforcement will help ensure these cases are handled with the right protocols and sensitivity they require,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union).
“Sexual assault cases require a thorough understanding of the matter and a careful approach,” said Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex). “Creating a liaison officer will help ensure victim’s cases are properly handled.”
The legislative package now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.