POU-BECK BILL TO PROTECT SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS ADVANCES

Senator Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, sitting at her desk with her husband during the reorganization of the 215th State Legislature

TRENTON Legislation sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Jennifer Beck to allow sexual assault victims to seek protective orders against their offenders was approved today by the full Senate.

The bi-partisan bill, S-2686, known as the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015, would permit victims of nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, or attempts of such acts to apply for a temporary protective order with the Superior Court. This bill would specifically apply to  cases in which the victim does not have a domestic relationship with the perpetrator and if he or she decides not to file a criminal complaint.

“Day in and day out, many sexual assault survivors face the challenge of living knowing that their attackers, who may be free, can strike again. This matter is an important issue, especially for those seeking protection but who may find it difficult because of the conditions under the current law,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen, Passaic). “With this bill, protection would be extended to all residents seeking restraining orders from assailants whether or not there is a pre-existing relationship. Ultimately, it would provide the necessary legal support to help prevent future attacks.”

“All sexual assault survivors deserve the same immediate, responsive protection from being re-victimized – regardless of the nature of their relationship with their attacker,” said Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth.) “As a former rape crisis advocate, I know how important it is to help survivors restore a sense a safety and security following an attack. We have seen how effective restraining orders can be in protecting domestic violence victims. This legislation will ensure that all survivors are afforded the same, life-saving protective orders. I commend my colleagues in the Senate for passing this vital bill to help countless victims across our state.”

The protective order would prohibit an offender from entering a victim’s residence, school or place of employment and could be required to stay away from places where the victim frequently visits, according to the bill. The perpetrator could also not be allowed to have contact or communication with the victim. This includes committing acts of stalking and harassment. Additionally, the court could file an emergency protective order on behalf of the individual without notification to the offender when necessary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the victim. Also under the bill, the Administrative Office of the Courts will establish and maintain a central, confidential registry of all protective orders and all persons charged with a violation of such orders, which would be available to certain law enforcement and child protection officers.

A person who violates the order would be charged with a criminal offense of the fourth degree, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a maximum of a $10,000 fine. Under the bill, a person convicted of a second or subsequent non-indictable offense would be required to serve a minimum of 30 days in prison.

The legislation also notes that if a victim is under 18 years old,  has a developmental disability, a mental illness or defect that impairs their ability in providing consent, the court would allow a parent or guardian to file an application on their behalf.

Under the current law, protective orders are issued for individuals who are or were formerly married, living together, in a dating relationship or have a child in common with an offender. In 2007, a law was enacted authorizing the courts to issue restraining orders against individuals charged with a sex offense as a condition to the person’s pre-trial release. The court may then continue to implement this order if the person is found guilty. This bill would allow a victim to seek a restraining order against a perpetrator regardless if criminal charges are filed.

The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates that roughly 300 sexual assault survivors a year will seek a restraining order if given the opportunity under this bill. Twenty-three states have passed similar laws, including Texas, Montana, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

The bill was approved by a vote of 40-0. It needs final approval by the Assembly before heading to the Governor’s Desk.

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