TRENTON, N.J. – Recommendations stemming from a 2015 Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence, and sponsored by committee member Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, were cleared by the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday. The bills reform how New Jersey’s justice system approaches domestic violence training.
The first piece of legislation (A1763/S386) establishes mandatory domestic violence awareness training for municipal prosecutors, while the other bill (A1964/S384) requires law enforcement officers, assistant county prosecutors, and judges to undergo training on the handling of domestic violence cases.
“Although these bills were first introduced five years ago, the lockdowns have underscored their importance. Domestic violence has been called the silent pandemic, but there are lawmakers and advocates who have been shouting from the rooftops – we need these reforms now,” Munoz (R-Union) said. “Domestic violence victims should never be afraid to come forward and seek justice, but the power was tipped in favor of the perpetrators during the government-mandated lockdowns. Victims stayed home, lost work and were socially isolated from loved ones. They were more easily targeted by abusers.”
According to the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, requests for domestic violence services jumped 20% in 2020. Many domestic violence programs reported that calls for help spiked 40% to 70% compared to the prior year. One program recorded a 188% increase in the number of shelter nights provided to survivors and their children in the last quarter of 2020, and another had the highest number of hotline calls they had received in 10 years.
Munoz, who also served as a member of a legislative committee tasked with reviewing the Murphy administration’s handling of sexual assault allegations, said that victims need to feel like they will be taken seriously in order to come forward.
“It is time we assure survivors that the state has standards to ensure they will be treated fairly by law enforcement and the court system. Additionally, we must equip our justice system with the tools on how to respond to domestic violence cases,” Munoz said.
Current law authorizes, but does not require, the Attorney General in consultation with county and municipal prosecutors, to develop voluntary domestic violence awareness training programs for all municipal prosecutors. The first bill passed by the committee would require municipal prosecutors to participate in an initial training within 90 days of appointment or transfer and annual in-service training of at least four hours.
The second bill approved by the committee would require law enforcement, assistant county prosecutors, judges and judicial staff to attend in-person training on a variety of domestic violence-related topics including its impact on children and survivors, services for victims and discrimination.
Both bills unanimously passed the Senate in June. They now go to the Speaker for further consideration.