Vainieri Huttle Bill to Protect Sexual Assault Victims Clears Panel

Legislation Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to allow more victims of sexual assault to seek protective orders against perpetrators was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bill (A-4078) would authorize protective orders for victims of nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration or lewdness or attempts at such conduct during cases in which the victim does not have a domestic relationship with the offender and does not wish to file a criminal complaint against him or her.

Under current law, a victim must have had a previous or existing domestic relationship with the offender, such as a spousal or dating relationship, or must file a criminal complaint against the offender in order to pursue a protective order. The bill, which is to be known as the "Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015," would eliminate these preconditions. 

"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," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "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." 

While current statutes allow domestic violence victims to seek a protective order against offenders, individuals who are victims of sexual assault but not domestic violence do not have similar protection under the law, Vainieri Huttle said.

"Sexual violence continues to be an underreported crime, and in part, it's because victims fear that they will be blamed or otherwise face reprisal if they come forward," said Vainieri Huttle. "Putting forth measures to help all those who seek an order of protection will promote a culture of supporting victims and remove a major flaw from our judicial system." 

An order for emergency, ex parte relief pursuant to the bill would be granted when necessary to protect the safety and well-being of a victim - regardless of whether criminal charges were filed - and would remain in effect until a superior court judge issues a further order. 

A violation of the bill's provisions would be a crime of the fourth degree. A person convicted of a second or subsequent nonindictable offense be required to serve a minimum of 30 days of imprisonment.

A protective order may include, but would not be limited to, prohibiting the offender from: engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact with the victim; entering the victim's home, school or place of employment and other places the victim regularly frequents; having contact or communication with the victim, which includes personal, written, telephone and electronic contact; stalking or following the victim or threatening to do so; and committing or attempting to commit an act of harassment, including cyber harassment, against the victim. 

If the victim is under 18 years old, has a developmental disability or has a mental disease or defect that makes it impossible to provide consent, the bill would permit a parent or guardian to file the application on his or her behalf.