In an effort to combat sexual assault in the military and create a safer environment for service members, a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker and Annette Chaparro as well as Assembly Republican Diane Gove (R-Ocean) would create a program and a coordinator to deal with sexual assault among service members.
The bill (A-5784) would establish a sexual assault prevention and response program in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) and require the Adjutant General to appoint a person to serve as the sexual assault prevention coordinator.
The coordinator would provide victim advocacy services, such as ensuring victims receive appropriate responsive care, understand their reporting options, and are notified if they are eligible for compensation through New Jersey’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office. The coordinator may also file an application for a protective order on behalf of the victim, if the victim so chooses.
Through the program itself, victims would be able to file a confidential complaint of sexual harassment and convert it to a formal complaint if/whenever they want. They would also be able to receive notice if the person who harassed/assaulted them is accused of another offense, and participate in the U.S. Department of Defense ‘Catch a Serial Offender Program.’
The program would apply to alleged sexual assaults committed by a service member against another service member, regardless of whether it took place on or off duty.
An annual report would be submitted to the Legislature and Governor with an analysis of the number of sexual assaults involving the New Jersey National Guard, an assessment of the prevention program’s effectiveness, any policies or procedures implemented by DMVA to help prevent sexual assault, and more.
Upon the legislation unanimously passing the full Assembly on Thursday, Assemblywomen Tucker (D-Essex) and Chaparro (D-Hudson) issued the following joint statement:
“Each year there are thousands of sexual assaults that take place in the military – with many more incidents of harassment and assault going unreported due to a lack of support for victims and fear of retaliation. Some service members have even described a culture that actually fosters these unsafe situations.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the sexual harassment and assault that takes place in the military, nor can we ignore the pervasive belief that these inappropriate behaviors are unavoidable or even acceptable. Just because our soldiers face danger on the battlefield does not mean they should have to worry about danger off the battlefield as well.
“Every service member deserves to be treated with decency and respect from their peers and their superiors. Establishing a program and a coordinator within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will help bring light to this issue and allow our state to assist victims as we work towards preventing sexual harassment and assault in the armed forces.”
The bill now heads to the Senate.