TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz’ bills improving the justice system’s approach to domestic violence training were signed into law on Tuesday.
The bills, which stem from a 2015 Supreme Court ad hoc committee on domestic violence report, establishes mandatory domestic violence training for new municipal prosecutors (A1763/S386), and requires law enforcement officers, assistant county prosecutors, and judges to undergo training on the handling of domestic violence cases (A1964/S384).
“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 was a member of the 2015 ad hoc committee, said that reaching out for help is often the first step to breaking the cycle of violence.
“It is time we assure survivors that the state has uniform 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.
Existing law authorized, but did not require the Attorney General to develop voluntary training programs for municipal prosecutors. The new law requires domestic violence training to be a mandatory component for all newly appointed municipal prosecutors. They must also undergo annual in-service training of at least four hours.
Law enforcement and assistant county prosecutors must also attend Attorney General-approved domestic violence training within 90 days of starting their job and then at their annual in-service training. Judges and judicial staff handling domestic violence cases must now attend in-person training on a variety of related topics including restraining orders, custody, child support, housing expenses, and counseling.
“Domestic violence victims should never be afraid to seek justice. These laws help survivors feel more confident about coming forward,” Munoz added.