WHAT IS SEXUAL VIOLENCE?
Sexual violence is any type of nonconsensual sexual interaction. Sexual violence includes unwanted sexual comments, groping and nonconsensual touching, penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault, among other types of interactions. Sexual violence is often committed by someone known to and trusted by the victim; it also may be committed by a complete stranger.
Sexual violence affects people regardless of gender, age, race, or identity. However, people who cause sexual harm may use and exploit a person’s characteristics—like their age, race, gender identity, or citizenship status—to exert power and control over them.
Terms: Throughout this resource, you’ll see the terms “survivor” and “victim” used interchangeably. NJCASA recognizes that people affected by sexual violence may use one, both, or neither of these terms. NJCASA also uses “person who caused harm” to refer to a person who has caused sexual harm to the victim or survivor.
WHAT OPTIONS DO SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE HAVE?
The immediate aftermath of experiencing a sexual assault or sexual violence may feel like a confusing or overwhelming time. It is not uncommon for survivors to experience a range of emotions, including numbness, sadness, anger, shock, and other feelings.
For survivors, assessing and determining next steps might seem overwhelming and may cause confusion, anxiety, and feelings of guilt. These are all common reactions, but it is important to remember that sexual violence is never the survivor’s fault. Nothing that the survivor did or did not do contributed to the assault.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, remember that you are not alone. Help is available across New Jersey for survivors and their loved ones.
Survivors and their loved ones can access the free, compassionate, confidential support of a Confidential Sexual Violence Advocate (CSVA) by calling New Jersey’s 24-hour statewide hotline at 1-800-601-7200 or by finding a local sexual violence program. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
A CSVA can provide:
- Emotional support
- Referrals to and information about available resources
- Accompaniment at hospitals, police stations, and courtrooms.
Free, confidential support is available 24/7.
HOW CAN SURVIVORS ACCESS MEDICAL ATTENTION?
Survivors may want or need to access medical attention following an assault. In New Jersey, if a survivor seeks medical attention within five days of an assault and is over age 13, they can access the free services of a Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE). The FNE can:
- Perform a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam kit (or a SAFE kit, commonly referred to as a “rape kit”), to collect evidence from the survivor’s body
- Provide medical care for any physical injuries
- Prescribe medication to prevent sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy, if applicable
The FNE is part of a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which also includes a Confidential Sexual Violence Advocate (CSVA) and a law enforcement officer. It is entirely up to the survivor if they want to access one, two, or all three of the SART team members. For example, a survivor can choose solely to be examined by an FNE; or, the survivor can choose to speak with a CSVA and a law enforcement officer, but not have evidence collected by a nurse.
Even if a survivor does not have a SAFE kit performed, they can still receive other medical attention and may choose to access the services of the CSVA, or report the assault to law enforcement.
HOW CAN SURVIVORS REPORT SEXUAL VIOLENCE TO THE POLICE?
Reporting sexual violence to law enforcement is a highly individual choice. Adult survivors can decide whether or not that choice is right for them.
There is no criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault in New Jersey. This means that survivors can choose to report their assault to the police at any point in time – whether it’s days, weeks, months, or years later.
Survivors can report an assault to law enforcement by:
- Calling 911 if they are in immediate danger.
- Contacting a local police department, either by phone or in person.
Survivors can request to have a CSVA accompany them during this reporting process. The survivor can either contact the CSVA prior to going to a police station, or can select to have a CSVA report to their location once they get to the station and begin the process of filing a report. Some of these options have been impacted by the current pandemic. Find more information here about how COVID-19 is impacting services.
Survivors who report their assault to law enforcement have protections under New Jersey’s Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights. Among these protections are the right to have their report taken seriously by law enforcement and the option to have interviews conducted in the survivor’s preferred language.
Under the Sexual Assault Bill of Rights, survivors have a range of legal rights, options, and resources available to them. Learn more with our fact sheet.
HOW CAN SURVIVORS ACCESS THE CIVIL JUSTICE SYSTEM?
Sexual violence has physical, emotional, mental, and financial impacts on victims. Due to that financial impact, some survivors may choose to seek justice through the civil system.
A civil lawsuit can provide survivors with financial compensation for the damages they suffered, such as loss of income or medical expenses. A civil suit can hold accountable the person(s) and/or the institution(s) who caused the survivor harm. A civil suit may provide compensation for the emotional damage that the survivor suffered.
Victims of sexual assault in N.J. have seven years to pursue civil action against the person who caused them harm. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse have until age 55 or seven years from the time they become aware that the trauma of their assault is linked to the harm they suffered. Learn more about the newly expanded civil statute of limitations for sexual assault in N.J.
Consulting with a qualified lawyer may be helpful for survivors navigating a civil process. For free referrals to attorneys for consultation, survivors may call the National Crime Victim Bar Association at (844) LAW-HELP or fill out a questionnaire on their website. Survivors may also contact Legal Services of New Jersey for more information on help available in their county.
HOW CAN SURVIVORS SEEK PROTECTIVE ORDERS?
If a survivor has experienced sexual violence and needs protection from the person who caused harm, they have the right to seek a civil protection order under the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA). Survivors can apply for a civil protective order without reporting to law enforcement or filing criminal charges. A protective order is a court order that prohibits the person who caused harm from having contact with the survivor and from committing future acts of violence.
For survivors who are engaging with law enforcement and pursuing criminal charges, they may qualify for a Sexual Offense Restraining Order (SORO) under “Nicole’s Law.” These restraining orders are available for survivors in situations where charges have been filed and prosecutors are pursuing a criminal case. An SORO remains in effect while the case is being litigated and, if applicable, upon conviction of the person who caused harm. However, if the case is dropped or a conviction is not reached, the protections of the order are discontinued. At this point, if the survivor still requires protection from the person who harmed them, they can pursue a protective order under SASPA, as outlined above.
ADDITIONAL LINKS AND RESOURCES
Victim Information and Notification Everyday. In New Jersey, survivors are entitled to know when the person who caused them harm is arrested or scheduled to be released from custody. The Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) service allows survivors to register to receive automatic notifications via phone, email, or text. TTY service for survivors who are Deaf or hard of hearing is also available. For more information, visit VINE’s website.
Financial Assistance. If a victim has reported their assault to law enforcement and has sustained personal injury or financial/property loss, they may be eligible for up to $25,000 in compensation through the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO). The VCCO can offer information and assistance regarding accessing compensation to cover mental health counseling, medical bills, relocation, loss of earnings, and other expenses that were a result of the assault. For additional information, eligibility requirements, and to file an application, visit www.NJVictims.org or call (877) 658-2221.
Immigration. If a survivor has experienced sexual violence and is undocumented, they and some members of their family may be eligible for a U visa. Survivors can contact their local legal services program or complete on online web intake form for additional immigration assistance. Survivors may also reach out to their local sexual violence program for referrals regarding immigration concerns.
For any additional questions or concerns regarding survivors’ legal rights and options, please contact NJCASA’s Assistant Director Robert Baran at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 631 – 4450 x1207.
While NJCASA would never voluntarily share information outside of our organization, it is important to know that none of NJCASA’s staff holds the same privileged, confidential communications as a Confidential Sexual Violence Advocate (CSVA). If you would like to speak confidentially about your situation, please contact your local sexual violence provider.