TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale that would add cyber-harassment to the list of offenses under current domestic violence statutes was approved today by the Senate and sent to the desk of the governor.
Currently, the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991” provides a list of 18 predicate offenses that, if inflicted by an adult or an emancipated minor on a person protected under the act, constitute domestic violence. The bill, S-1257, would add cyber-harassment to the list and would therefore allow temporary or permanent restraining orders on those grounds.
“Domestic violence comes in many forms, as does harassment. The age of social media and the internet has opened up a whole new world for perpetrators to target their victims, and we must ensure that our laws reflect current times and account for cyber-harassment,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex).
The crime of cyber-harassment was enacted in 2013, and is defined as the act of making communication in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site with the purpose to harass another by: (1) threatening to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person; (2) knowingly sending, posting, commenting, requesting, suggesting, or proposing any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm someone or place them in fear of physical or emotional harm; or (3) threatening to commit any crime against a person or his or her property.
“The damaging effects of domestic violence are long-lasting,” said Senator Vitale. “This legislation recognizes cyber-harassment as a form of abuse, and will allow victims of the crime to pursue a restraining order to protect themselves. Hopefully, it will allow those who have been affected to claim control over their own lives.”
Cyber-harassment is a crime of the fourth degree, unless the person is 21 years of age or older at the time of the offense and impersonates a minor for the purpose of cyber-harassing a minor, in which case it is treated as a crime of the third degree. A crime of the fourth degree is generally punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months or a fine up to $10,000, or both; a crime of the third degree, by a term of three to five years or a fine up to $15,000, or both.
The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 37-0. The Assembly approved it unanimously in February.