Women senators cosponsor reforms by Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in NJ Politics
TRENTON – Legislation 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 was signed into law today.
“This package of bills, which the Governor signed into law, is the work of so many groups and individuals. First, I would like to thank the Governor for signing the bills into law today. These bills had overwhelming bipartisan support and passed the legislature unanimously,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Many of the bills were drafted after the joint-legislative select oversight committee hearings, which looked into the issues raised by Katie Brennan. At least two other work groups also gave very important input.
“The package is still incomplete, and we are awaiting the passage of two more bills. One will set up a process for sexual harassment complaints within campaign settings, and the other one, which is awaiting action in the Assembly, will codify into law the process for state employees. These laws will help make a difference in our state. They are truly a collaborative effort and I am proud and so pleased to be given the privilege to prime sponsor each of them.”
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 Katie Brennan’s sexual assault case, and earlier legislative reforms had failed to address the rampant misogyny and violence that plagued state politics. The Workgroup issued its formal report in January.
“Far too often, survivors of sexual assault who have the courage to come forward are victimized a second time,” said Senator Weinberg. “These laws aim to remedy the pitfalls in our criminal justice system and workplaces that allow violence and misogyny to continue. These new laws will 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. Additionally, the Attorney General will be required to report annually on sexual assault complaints and how many make it to trial.”
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 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 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 law 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 law 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 law 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. By adding an in-house expert to help deal with these often sensitive cases, officers will be better informed and better equipped on how to respond in these situations,” said Senator Pou. “This law 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 essential that they are equipped with the most current training,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex). “Restorative justice is a newer method that has proven to be effective, especially in sexual assault cases, and this law will ensure that county prosecutors will be trained and prepared to use this in future cases.”