Legislation Would Permit Victims without Ties to Offenders to Seek Protective Orders
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gabriela Mosquera, John McKeon, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter to allow more victims of sexual assault to seek protective orders against their perpetrators recently received final legislative approval from the General Assembly.
“Simply seeing an abuser – whether he or she is a new acquaintance or an old friend – forces many sexual assault survivors to relive the trauma of having been violated, and current law says they have no option but to suffer in silence,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Every person in this state has a right to feel safe while going about his or her daily life. With this bill, we reaffirm our commitment to the notion that all residents of New Jersey should be able to seek the protection they need to live in peace.”
Under current law, in order to pursue a protective order, a victim must have had a previous or existing domestic relationship with the offender, such as a spousal or dating relationship, or must file a criminal complaint against the offender. The bill (A-4078), which would be known as the “Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015,” would eliminate these preconditions.
“Most times, sexual assault, much like domestic violence, is about control for the perpetrators,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This legislation will strip perpetrators of that control and help victims fight back by giving them access to law enforcement protections they never had before.”
Specifically, the bill would authorize protective orders for victims of non-consensual sexual contact, sexual penetration or lewdness or attempts at such conduct during cases in which the victim does not have a domestic relationship with the offender and does not wish to file a criminal complaint against him or her.
“Sexual violence knows no boundaries and neither should protective orders,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “These orders have saved lives in the past and should be available to all victims, regardless of their relationship, or lack thereof, with the perpetrator.”
“A protection order can be integral in helping a victim put their life back together again and move forward,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This type of legal support is key, not only in preventing a repeat in violence, but also in preventing harassment, stalking, intimidation and other serious disruptions to a victim’s life.”
“Oftentimes victims fear that they will be blamed or face reprisal if they come forward, which is why sexual violence continues to be an underreported crime,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This measure will eliminate a major flaw in our judicial system and create a greater culture of support and protection for victims.”
While current statutes allow domestic violence victims to seek a protective order against offenders, individuals who are victims of sexual assault, but not domestic violence, do not have similar protections under the law, Vainieri Huttle said.
An order for emergency, ex parte relief pursuant to the bill would be granted when necessary to protect the safety and well-being of a victim – regardless of whether criminal charges were filed – and would remain in effect until a superior court judge issues a further order.
A violation of the bill’s provisions would be a crime of the fourth degree. A person convicted of a second or subsequent non-indictable offense be required to serve a minimum of 30 days of imprisonment.
A protective order may include, but would not be limited to, prohibiting the offender from: engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact with the victim; entering the victim’s home, school or place of employment and other places the victim regularly frequents; having contact or communication with the victim, which includes personal, written, telephone and electronic contact; stalking or following the victim or threatening to do so; and committing or attempting to commit an act of harassment, including cyber harassment, against the victim.
If the victim is under 18 years old, has a developmental disability or has a mental disease or defect that makes it impossible to provide consent, the bill would permit a parent or guardian to file the application on his or her behalf.
The bill, which received unanimous approval in both houses of the legislature, now heads to the governor’s desk.