NJ Senate set to approve bills addressing sexual assault
TRENTON — An eight-bill package addressing sexual assault is scheduled for state Senate approval Thursday – protecting the rights of survivors, improving police and judicial case management and training and putting state harassment and discrimination policies into law.
Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the proposals are common sense. She in particular touts S3070, a proposed three-year “Sexual Violence Restorative Justice Pilot Program” bringing survivors and their abusers together to seek collective healing solutions outside of the judicial system.
“These are not, for the most part, bills that could be argued go a bridge too far. They are reasonable and necessary, drafted in response to survivors’ articulated needs,” Teffenhart said.
The package of bills arose from a workgroup that studied harassment, sexual assault and misogyny in New Jersey politics. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said they address pitfalls that have allowed those problems to persist – though she knows it won’t end them.
“These bills aim to empower survivors to become informed and to be able to pursue their rights,” Weinberg said.
“I am hopeful that these bills will somehow make the situation a little bit better,” she said.
Among the proposals’ advocates are Katie Brennan, a state official who alleged she was raped by a colleague on Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign – and that the transition team, state and law enforcement botched the follow-up.
The bills include S3071, a proposal to require authorities to provide sexual assault victims the option to review an initial incident report before it’s filed, so they can point out errors. Brennan said the initial interaction is critical – and sometimes the only direct contact a victim will have.
“These revisions are essential for creating transparency, fairness and engendering trust between law enforcement and survivors,” she said.
Brennan said in her case, she didn’t get a copy of the initial incident report until the investigation was long over. It both misspelled her name and – more importantly – incorrectly said the assault took place in her bedroom, rather than her living room.
The bills also include:
- S3072: Requires the Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy and the county prosecutor’s office to share an information packet with victims of sexual assault explaining their rights and relevant laws, the criminal justice process, available counseling and other services, phone numbers for updates on their case, and contact information for both the prosecutor and the Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy.
- S3073: Establishes the right of victims of sexual assault to be notified of decisions by county prosecutors on whether to file charges prior to notifying the alleged perpetrator and providing victims with the opportunity to consult with prosecutors before plea deal negotiations are concluded.
- S3074: Requires the state Attorney General's Office to monitor sexual assault cases and issue an annual report to the governor and Legislature, including statistics on reports/complaints filed by victims, referrals to county prosecutors, cases declined to be prosecuted, indictments or charges, downgrading of charges, plea agreements, and police reports.
- S3075: Establishes sexual violence liaison officers with specialized training in the Division of State Police and local police departments to serve as the in-house expert and primary point of contact on sexual violence cases, provide training to other officers, and monitor station compliance with the law and other directives.
- S3076: Requires training for county prosecutors and assistant prosecutors every three years on how to handle, investigate, and respond to reports of sexual assault, including training in restorative justice.
- S3078: Codifies into law the State Workplace Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Policy, including training requirements, reporting requirements for supervisors, and standards for investigation and disposition of discrimination and harassment complaints.
“The truth is that most of the items in this package of bills will seem to everyday people to be common-sense measures,” Teffenhart said. “I would venture to guess that many if not most New Jerseyans would actually even be surprised to hear that some of these things are not currently in existence.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.