TRENTON, N.J. – Protective orders in New Jersey could soon be issued to victims of stalking or cyber-harassment perpetrated by strangers under legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis and cleared by the Assembly Judiciary Committee Thursday. The assemblywoman says it closes a loophole in current law that limits restraining orders without criminal conviction to victims of domestic violence who have a spousal, household or dating relationship with their abuser.
“In today’s digital world, stalkers can threaten and harass strangers for years and years without ever coming into physical contact with them. These victims have little protection under current law, but that will hopefully soon change,” Matsikoudis (R-Union) said. “Victims who have been targeted by strangers, neighbors and acquaintances should be able to get a protective order and experience the peace of mind that provides.”
In February, Michele Albano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that her daughter received strange and threatening text messages from a man only blocks away in Hoboken, but because the pair did not have a relationship the family wasn’t able to get a restraining order. Her daughter had to live in fear for eight months before a judge issued a protective stay-away order.
Matsikoudis’ bill (A2770) would allow a judge to issue a protective order when domestic violence statutes are inapplicable due to a lack of a prior or existing relationship. Additionally, parents may act on behalf of their children who are under 18 or who have a developmental disability.
“Knowing you are being followed and watched by someone hiding behind a keyboard or living a few doors down is very frightening and unnerving. Just because the victim doesn’t personally know the offender, doesn’t mean the stranger will not act on threats. This law will put barriers in place that will serve to prevent further harm and harassment,” Matsikoudis said.
The Senate companion bill (S1517) passed the full Senate unanimously on Feb. 27.