National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 19-25) provides an opportunity to highlight challenges faced by crime victims and to emphasize the ongoing struggle to establish victims’ rights. NJCASA believes this is an ideal time to elevate the statewide discourse around the need to advance the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 (A4078/S2686), which will expand the provision of restraining orders to survivors of sexual assault.
Q: Who currently qualifies for sexual assault restraining orders in New Jersey?
A: Currently, survivors of sexual assault may qualify for a restraining order if:
- The sexual assault occurs within the context of a relationship included within the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act; and/or
- The sexual assault case was tried in criminal court and resulted in a conviction of the offender, as determined by Nicole’s Law.
Q: Why is that not enough?
A: The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 is a critically-important bill that closes a loophole in current law by extending the provision of restraining orders to survivors who would not qualify for consideration under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, or Nicole’s Law.
Approximately 75-80% of sexual assault survivors know their perpetrator. They are friends, neighbors, and colleagues. The interpersonal dynamics of a sexual assault, in that context, very closely mirror those that occur within assaults covered under domestic violence statutes. Domestic violence restraining orders require no conviction, as the dynamics of interpersonal relationships is well understood and respected by our laws.
Sexual assault is recognized as the most underreported crime, and of incidents reported to law enforcement, only approximately 5% are prosecuted. While passing Nicole’s Law in 2007 was a clear move in the right direction for survivors of sexual assault in New Jersey, current law still excludes 80% of survivors from being eligible to receive the safety provided by restraining orders. Expanding the provision of restraining orders to cover sexual assaults without convictions is in-line with New Jersey’s well-known survivor-centered response to sexual violence.
Q: Do other states offer restraining orders for survivors of sexual assault?
A: Yes! In fact twenty-three other states offer restraining orders for survivors of sexual assault. Some of those states include Texas, Montana, South Dakota and most recently (2014) our neighboring state of Pennsylvania.
Q: What impact can this legislation have on survivors of sexual assault?
A: The FBI recognizes sexual assault as the second most violent crime, the first of which is murder. As such, the trauma experienced by survivors is often debilitating, leading to a lack of productivity and ongoing fear of their attacker. The White House estimates that sexual assault can cost a survivor from $87,000 to $240,000 including medical and victim services, loss of productivity, decreased quality of life, etc.
Victims of sexual assault, much like victims of murder and domestic violence, live within their crime scene. They cannot escape the daily reminders of the violent act committed against them because the violation they experienced was one against their own body. Providing an opportunity for survivors of sexual assault to seek the protections afforded by restraining orders recognizes the complex and traumatic ways in which this crime alters lives, and will support the process of healing.
Q: What’s next for the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015?
A: The bill has passed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee and ultimately passed unanimously through the New Jersey General Assembly. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and once advanced, will move through to the full New Jersey Senate for a vote.
NJCASA worked collaboratively with the bill’s sponsors, as well as representatives from the Office of the Attorney General and the Administrative Office of the Courts to ensure that this particular piece of legislation was meeting the specific needs of survivors of sexual assault. We are proud of the ways in which a diverse group of stakeholders have come together in a collective effort to create safer communities and better outcomes for survivors of sexual assault and look forward to adding the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 to the long list of policies New Jersey has adopted to better meet the needs of survivors.