Harrison: Senate to tackle sexual-assault measure

BY BRIGID HARRISON The Record 

THE STATE Senate will soon take up consideration of the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 (A-4078), which passed in the Assembly this year and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

The bill, sponsored by Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood; Gabriela Mosquera, D-Essex; John McKeon, D-Essex and Morris; Daniel Benson, D-Mercer and Middlesex; and Shavonda Sumter, D-Paterson, in the Assembly, and Nellie Pou, D-North Haledon, and Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, in the Senate will enable a broader class of sexual assault victims to seek temporary protective orders by filing an application with the Superior Court.

Our state Senate should pass the measure, and Governor Christie should sign it into law.

Current law allows only victims who have filed a criminal complaint against an assailant, or victims who currently have or previously had a domestic relationship with him or her, to be granted a protective order. The proposal would allow victims of a series of crimes — non-consensual sexual contact, sexual penetration or lewdness, or attempts to commit these crimes — in which the victim is not related to the assailant but does not wish to file a criminal complaint to seek a protective order.

According to the proposal, the emergency relief provided by a protective order could bar the assailant from entering the home, school or workplace of the victim, or the victim’s family or household members, as well as other places frequented by the victim and his or her family, as specified by the court. It could also ban the assailant from contacting the victim and his or her family, and other people familiar with the victim as specified by the order, either directly or through another person. It would also bar the assailant from threatening, following, stalking or harassing the victim, including online harassment or stalking. A temporary protective order would remain in effect until a Superior Court judge issued a further order.

"Simply seeing an abuser – whether he or she is a new acquaintance or an old friend – forces many sexual assault survivors to relive the trauma of having been violated, and current law says they have no option but to suffer in silence. Every person in this state has a right to feel safe while going about his or her daily life. With this bill, we reaffirm our commitment to the notion that all residents of New Jersey should be able to seek the protection they need to live in peace," said Vainieri Huttle in a statement.

The reality is that the measure provides an important level of protection for victims of crimes in New Jersey who are least able to protect themselves. The measure enables the courts and then law enforcement to ensure that victims of sexual offenses do not continue to be physical and psychological victims. Prosecutors may hesitate to press charges against the perpetrators of sexual crimes against young children who may not be capable of testifying against them, and parents may refrain from pressing charges to protect children from the ordeal of a lengthy trial.

If passed, the measure would insulate victims considering or preparing to press charges against assailants from being stalked, harassed or intimidated.

The bill also serves to protect victims with developmental disabilities or those with mental disorders who are incapable of granting consent to sexual relations by enabling a parent or guardian to file an application for a protective order on behalf of the victim.

Purposefully violating the protective order would constitute a fourth-degree crime, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000 or both, according to the bill.

Brigid Callahan Harrison is professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, where she teaches courses in American government and state and local politics. A frequent commentator in print and electronic media, she is the author of five books on American politics. Like her on Facebook at Brigid Callahan Harrison. Follow her on Twitter @BriCalHar.