(TRENTON) - Legislation Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to establish a Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights was advanced Thursday by an Assembly panel.
"New Jersey has made advances in the recognition and protection of the rights of crime victims and survivors once they enter the criminal justice system, but victims of sexual violence, more than other victims, are still likely to be blamed for the crime, assumed to be fabricating the crime or taken less seriously than their injuries warrant," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "These victims are sometimes discouraged from proceeding with their complaints and, as a result, are not afforded the protections and rights that other crime victims receive in the criminal justice system. This mentality has gone on far too long and must change, and with this bill we're taking a step in the right direction."
"All victims of sexual violence have the right to be treated with respect, dignity, empathy and a non-judgmental attitude," said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). "This bill makes clear that victims have the right to be free of any suggestion that they are responsible for the violence committed against them, and have the right to have the sexual assault treated seriously and in accordance with their ability and willingness to proceed legally or personally to recoup their losses from any such violence. It's the right approach to finally ensure victims receive the help they need."
The bill (A-1089) would establish a Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights.
The bill would also require certain public employees to facilitate access to services for victims of sexual violence. The bill defines public employee as any person employed by a public entity that is responsible for the delivery of social, health care, institutional or correctional services, or primary or secondary educational services to the public. The bill defines to facilitate access" as assisting the victim in contacting a sexual violence program should the victim choose such contact, or directing a victim to a person designated by the public entity to assist a victim in contacting a sexual violence program or appropriate agency.
The bill provides that a person receiving the services of a public employee who makes a complaint or report of sexual violence to the employee shall not be denied the rights provided for under the bill regardless of the victim's age, race, gender, cognitive capacity, physical abilities or sexual, medical or mental health treatment history.
The sponsors said the intent of this provision is to address a gap in current procedures. At present, if a client of a public agency reports an act of sexual violence to an employee, the agency may not have policies and procedures to address the issue appropriately.
The rights enumerated under the bill are as follows:
· To speak privately, consistent with privileges provided by the New Jersey statutes, at any point in the process of reporting a sexual assault or receiving services, with a rape care advocate and with any other advocate, clergy, attorney, or support person of the victim's choosing, and to have any such communication treated as privileged and confidential;
· To be informed about any legal or ethical requirement that requires the agency or employee to share any information related to the violence with another government agency;
· To formally report the sexual violence, or to refrain from making a formal report to any person or institution, including law enforcement authorities, and to not have the receipt any public service made contingent on reporting or not reporting the incident;
· To medical treatment by a provider of the victim's choice, or from a Sexual Assault Response Team as provided in the Attorney General's Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, and to the choice to opt into or out of any of the team's services, including the option to refuse a forensic examination;
· To choose whether to participate in any investigation of the assault;
· To reasonable efforts to provide treatment and interviews in a language in which the victim is fluent and to be given access to appropriate assistive devices to accommodate the victim's disabilities, whether temporary or long term; and
· To information and assistance in accessing specialized mental health service; protection from further violence; and other appropriate community or governmental services, including services provided by the Victims of Crime Compensation Office; and all other assistance available to crime victims under present law.
The bill would also require the Victims of Crime Compensation Office in consultation with the Division on Women, the Department of Health and Senior Services and the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault to publish a notice of these rights and promulgate regulations that require its posting in all hospital emergency departments, police stations and any other appropriate place.
The bill was advanced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.