8 women senators cosponsor reforms from Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in NJ Politics
TRENTON – The Senate today unanimously approved eight bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg 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.
“Far too often, survivors of sexual assault who have the courage to come forward are victimized a second time,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “These bills aim to remedy the pitfalls in our criminal justice system and workplaces that allow violence and misogyny to continue. These bills would empower survivors to become informed and pursue their rights. They require anti-harassment training for county prosecutors and require each police department to have a designated sexual violence liaison officer.
“The Attorney General would be required to report annually on sexual assault complaints and how many make it to trial,” she said. “And finally, this package aims to provide recourse to state employees who encounter workplace harassment and discrimination.”
Senator Weinberg noted that the legislation arose out of recommendations that came out of public and private listening sessions held by the informal Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics. She formed the group after a December 2019 Star-Ledger article showed that the #MeToo movement, legislative hearings on the handling of the Katie Brennan sexual assault case, and earlier legislative reforms had failed to address the rampant misogyny and violence that plagued state politics. The Workgroup will issue its formal report in January.
Senator Weinberg thanked Brennan, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, for their work on the legislation. The bills, which are sponsored in the Assembly by Deputy Speaker Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), are:
S3070: 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 (Weinberg/Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer/Hunterdon).
“The Sexual Violence Restorative Justice Pilot Program will be influential in restoring a sense of control and independence to survivors,” said Senator Turner. “Through utilizing a restorative justice approach, the program will work to repair the harm that was caused by allowing direct involvement of the victim and their family. Ultimately, this bill will work to fulfill the expectations of victims for justice against their abusers, and our hope is that we can help them move forward with their lives even after experiencing traumatizing sexual violence.”
S3071: Requires law enforcement authorities to provide victims of sexual assault with the initial incident report on their complaint, and provide victims with the option to review the initial incident report before it is filed and state whether they agree or disagree with information contained in the report (Weinberg/Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex).
“At times when survivors of sexual assault finally receive a copy of the police report they filed, they discover it minimizes and distorts the account they gave of their experience, but at that point, there’s nothing they can do to change it,” said Senator Ruiz. “By providing people the opportunity to review and contest their police report, before it’s formally filed, we can ensure the survivor’s voice is documented and reflected in the final product.”
S3072: 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. (Weinberg/Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson).
“The trauma of a sexual assault is extremely taxing on the victim. Survivors of sexual assault are entitled to the proper resources and care for their recovery post-trauma,” said Senator Cunningham. “This bill will ensure that survivors are fully aware of their rights, the services they are entitled to, and the proper protection they need going forward.”
S3073: 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 plea deal negotiations are concluded (Weinberg/Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic).
“During both public and private hearings, victims of sexual assault shared their concerns that our criminal justice system failed to meet their needs,” said Senator Corrado “This legislation is recognition that they shouldn’t be treated as little more than witnesses to a crime, but as survivors who deserve to be heard and treated more respectfully by prosecutors.”
S3074: Requires the state Attorney General to monitor 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. (Weinberg/Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer).
“Each year, there are unfortunately many who fall victim to sexual violence,” said Senator Greenstein. “Many of these victims do not receive the justice they deserve because they are unable to pursue prosecution against their abuser. This bill will provide transparency on how many of these cases make it to court and the outcome of those proceedings, allowing us to find any shortcomings in our justice system that prevent victims from receiving the justice they deserve.”
S3075: 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 (Weinberg/Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic/Bergen).
“Sexual assault cases can be difficult to navigate for victims and police departments. Oftentimes, victims do not feel heard or adequately assisted by the police,” said Senator Pou. “This bill will ensure that the police departments are trained to assist survivors of sexual assault and that survivors feel heard, seen, and supported by the police.”
S3076: 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 (Weinberg/Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex).
“In order for our county prosecutors to properly handle and manage sexual assault crimes and investigations, it is important that they are equipped with the most current training,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex). “Restorative justice is a newer method that has proved to be effective, especially in sexual assault cases, and this bill will ensure that county prosecutors will be trained and prepared to use this in future cases in New Jersey.”
S3078: 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 (Weinberg/Sen. Dawn Addiego, D-Burlington).
“These are complex issues we are grappling with.” Senator Weinberg acknowledged. “It is no understatement to say that I and others in this Legislature — including the many woman senators who are serving as the co-prime sponsors of these bills — have spent years trying to address the plague of sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination. We are hopeful these bills will meaningfully improve outcomes for sexual assault survivors.”