TRENTON, N.J. – Three Assembly panels cleared bills that will better protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence today. Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz sponsors two of the bills, A1711 and A1651, respectively creating a sexual assault victim’s “Bill of Rights” and expanding the address confidentiality program. Assemblyman Erik Peterson sponsors AJR115 that establishes a task force to study the legal needs of domestic violence victims.
More than 1.8 million people, or nearly 20 percent of the state’s population, are survivors of sexual violence.
“We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect, inform and help all survivors of sexual assault, regardless of whether they report it to police or whether the assailant has been officially charged,” said Munoz (R-Union).
Munoz’s bill of rights seeks to ensure that sexual assault survivors can understand and access their full range of legal rights, services and options.
Through her second bill, Munoz wants to expand the address confidentiality program to include victims of stalking, sexual assault, and those who have applied for protective orders. It currently allows a victim of domestic violence to have an alternate mailing address to protect them from offenders who use public records.
“No one should ever have to fear for their lives or their children’s well-being while living in their own home,” said Munoz. “Many more victims will have their real addresses kept private, which will hopefully give them some peace of mind.”
Peterson wants to establish a task force to study unmet legal needs in domestic violence matters. According to the State Police’s domestic violence report in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 63,420 domestic violence offenses reported by police. One act of domestic violence occurred every 8 minutes and 29 seconds.
“Increasing a victim’s chance for obtaining a restraining order is one of the best ways legal assistance can effectively help protect survivors and decrease domestic violence,” said Peterson. “Both parties are at a great disadvantage without legal counsel. They are ill-equipped to advocate for themselves and navigate the courts.”
There could be dire consequences for those who do not seek protection of counsel. About 83 percent of domestic violence victims represented by an attorney successfully obtained a protective order, while only 32 percent without an attorney obtained one, according to an American University study.
The task force would consist of 16 members who would be charged with making recommendations that would increase the availability of legal assistance in domestic violence cases and issuing a report on their findings to the governor and Legislature within 18 months. The task force would dissolve three months after the report is issued.