TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Deputy Speaker Valerie Vainieri Huttle are proposing a comprehensive nine-bill package to protect the rights of survivors of sexual assault, improve law enforcement and judicial case management and training, and codify harassment and discrimination policies throughout state government.
“Survivors of sexual assault who are brave enough to seek redress through the legal system need to know that prosecutors and police will respect their rights, that trained sexual violence liaison officers will be there to listen, and that they will receive the support services they need,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We learned all too well from Katie Brennan’s experience where the gaps are in the system and how poorly so many survivors are treated.”
The legislators based their reforms on recommendations by Ms. Brennan, whose allegation that she had been sexually assaulted by a staffer on the Murphy for Governor campaign led to months of hearings by a Legislative Select Oversight Committee. The bills also incorporate recommendations from Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.
“When someone comes forward with their story of trauma, they are staking their faith in a judicial system that survivors say too often fails them,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Survivors must be heard and supported at all levels of the process, from law enforcement to the court system. We’ve taken meaningful steps to make changes, but we need to go further to make sure the process puts survivors first.”
Ms. Brennan strongly endorsed the legislative package. “Restorative justice, prosecution reform, law enforcement reform, improved rights and resources for survivors — this legislation holds systems and people accountable,” she said. “They heard, they believed, and they acted. I am proud to work with the Legislature to make New Jersey a better place for survivors. Thank you, Senator Weinberg and Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, for being such strong leaders on this issue.”
Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who also worked on the legislation, said the reforms are vitally needed.
“When we are young, we are told to find the ‘helpers’ when we’re in trouble – including the police. Yet, research published in the 2014 Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that after interacting with law enforcement, 71 percent of survivors of sexual violence reported feeling depressed, 89 perfect felt violated, and 91 percent reported feeling disappointed,” Ms. Teffenhart, said.
“This package of bills addresses a number of opportunities for growth, including increased training, more trauma-informed processes for survivors who engage with the criminal legal system, and strengthened oversight and accountability for our colleagues in law enforcement. We have made significant strides in New Jersey – increasing the timeline for rape kit retention, mandating law enforcement training, and expanding our civil statute of limitations. But, we have more to do and these bills keep moving us in the right direction,” she noted.
The nine bills, which were introduced yesterday by Senator Weinberg and Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, are:
· S3070/A4884: Establishes a three-year “Sexual Violence Restorative Justice Pilot Program” in North, Central and South Jersey to bring survivors and their abusers together to seek collective healing solutions outside the judicial system.
· S3071/A4885: Requires law enforcement authorities to provide victims of sexual assault with the police report on their complaint, and provide victims with the option to review the police report before it is filed and state whether they agree or disagree with information contained in the report.
· S3072/A4886: Requires the Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy and the county prosecutor’s office to share an information packet with victims of sexual assault explaining their rights and relevant laws, the criminal justice process, available counseling and other services, phone numbers for updates on their case, and contact information for both the prosecutor and the Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy.
· S3073/A4887: Establishes the right of victims of sexual assault to be notified of decisions by county prosecutors on whether to file charges prior to notifying the alleged perpetrator, and providing victims with the opportunity to consult with prosecutors before an plea deal negotiations are concluded.
· S3074/A4888: Requires the state Attorney General to audit sexual assault cases and issue an annual report to the Governor and Legislature, including statistics on reports/complaints filed by victims, referrals to county prosecutors, cases declined to be prosecuted, indictments or charges, downgrading of charges, plea agreements and police reports.
· S3075/A4889: Establishes sexual violence liaison officers with specialized training in the Division of State Police and local police departments to serve as the in-house expert and primary point of contact on sexual violence cases, provide training to other officers, and monitor station compliance with the law and other directives.
· S3076/A4890: Requires training for county prosecutors and assistant prosecutors every three years on how to handle, investigate and respond to reports of sexual assault, including training in restorative justice.
· S3077/A4891: Codifies into law and revise the State Legislature’s anti-harassment policy, including training requirements, reporting requirements for supervisors, and standards for investigation and disposition of discrimination and harassment complaints.
· S3078/A4892: Codifies into law the State Workplace Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Policy, including training requirements, reporting requirements for supervisors, and standards for investigation and disposition of discrimination and harassment complaints.
“This package of reforms will make a real difference in the lives of victims of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination,” said Senator Weinberg. “These reforms are long overdue.”