Seven bills adding legal protections for sexual assault victims became law in New Jersey with Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature on April 19.
“These long-overdue reforms will change how survivors interact with law enforcement agencies and provide additional information on the scope of these incidents. I am proud to sign these bills into law,” Murphy said in a press statement.
Among the new laws is one (S3071/A4885) that requires law enforcement to provide sexual assault victims with an initial incident report. The law stipulates that the victim will have the option to review this initial report and submit corrections. Another new law (S3076/A4890) requires training every three years for prosecutors on how to handle, investigate, and respond to reports of sexual assault.
Separate legislation that Murphy signed (S3073/A4887) establishes that victims have the right to be notified of prosecutor’s charging decision in sexual assault cases. State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40), a cosponsor of the legislation, said that Katie Brennan, who alleged that while working on Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign she was sexually assaulted by a fellow campaign worker, was the catalyst for the suite of bills.
Prosecutors Required to Be More Transparent
“Katie Brennan bravely shared her story of sexual assault and the frustrating manner in which she learned that criminal charges would not be brought in her case,” said Corrado. “Her testimony inspired this new law requiring county prosecutors to be more transparent with the survivors of sexual assault.”
Corrado cosponsored the proposal with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37). Weinberg and Corrado chaired the Legislative Select Oversight Committee, where Brennan testified of “the many challenges and roadblocks she faced in her effort to seek justice,” Corrado said in a press release.
“Victims deserve the right to know whether charges will be brought against an attacker,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27), a cosponsor of the measure. “If the case will not be tried by the prosecutor, knowing that decision can allow victims to take steps to avoid their abuser and seek emotional support.”
Two More Laws Coming
Weinberg, the lead sponsor of all seven bills, said that many of the bills were drafted after the joint legislative select oversight committee hearings, which examined the issues that Brennan raised.
“The package is still incomplete, and we are awaiting the passage of two more bills,” said Weinberg. One bill would set up a process for sexual harassment complaints within campaign settings; the other, which awaits action by the Assembly, would codify into law the process for state employees.
“These laws will help make a difference in our state. They are truly a collaborative effort, and I am proud and so pleased to be given the privilege to prime sponsor each of them,” Weinberg said.
Additional measures that Murphy signed into law, include:
- S3074/A4888 requiring the Office of the Attorney General to issue an annual report concerning sexual assault cases;
- S3075/A4889 establishing a sexual violence liaison officer in Division of State Police and local police departments;
- S3072/A4886 requiring that resources be made available to sexual assault victims, including details pertaining to their rights, the criminal justice process, available mental health resources, and how to get in touch with law enforcement and advocacy contacts; and
- S3070/A4884 establishing a “Sexual Violence Restorative Justice Pilot Program.”
‘Avenues to Justice’
Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), the first prime sponsor of each bill in that chamber, stressed the importance of believing survivors.
“This package seeks to lay out the framework for not only believing survivors, but supporting and hearing them,” stated Huttle. “These laws will create space for survivors to speak their truth to receive the support and respect they rightfully deserve. This package is about ensuring that our avenues to justice are safe and fair for survivors when they decide to seek recourse and justice.”
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) said sexual violence is “far too prevalent in our society, affecting at least one in every five women and one in 71 men,”
“With so many survivors in our state, we must make sure we provide them with the support they need to recover from their experience and take control of their lives,” said McKnight.
Weinberg said each of the seven bills the governor signed into law enjoyed “overwhelming” bipartisan support and passed the legislature unanimously.
“Far too often, survivors of sexual assault who have the courage to come forward are victimized a second time,” Weinberg said. “These laws aim to remedy the pitfalls in our criminal justice system and workplaces that allow violence and misogyny to continue. These new laws will empower survivors to become informed and pursue their rights.”