Domestic Violence – What are a Victim’s Options?
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
The Trump administration has been caught up in yet another controversy, as allegations of domestic abuse resulted in the resignations of two top White House staff members in the same week. Staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriter David Sorenson, who were each accused of domestic abuse by their former wives, stepped down in February despite denying the allegations.
Although President Trump subsequently condemned domestic violence, he has yet to nominate a director for The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, a position that has been vacant since he took office over a year ago. His administration has also been criticized for proposing cuts to funding for programs aimed at preventing domestic and sexual violence.
This comes at a time when there is heightened awareness of sexual and domestic abuse nationwide, a dramatic shift from the lack of attention paid to these critical issues in the past. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 10 million incidents of domestic violence occur in the U.S. every year. Yet it wasn’t until 1994 that Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a national law addressing the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2013, the Obama administration reauthorized the VAWA and increase protections for gay, bisexual and transgender survivors.
New Jersey had no specific law protecting victims of domestic violence before 1991, when the state Legislature passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. This act acknowledged domestic violence as a serious crime responsible for more injuries to women than rape, mugging and traffic accidents combined.
The New Jersey law defines domestic violence as the actual or threatened physical, sexual, emotional or economic abuse of an individual by someone with whom they have or have had an intimate relationship, which can include relationships based friendship, roommates, and employment. This includes the occurrence of one or more of 19 criminal offenses ranging from homicide and assault to kidnapping and sexual assault. Domestic violence is not limited to physical or sexual abuse: it also includes emotional abuse such as harassment, stalking, extreme texting and emailing.
A victim of domestic violence is someone age 18 or older, or an emancipated minor, who has been subjected to abuse by a spouse, former spouse, present or former household member, co-worker, or who, regardless of age, has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has or has had an intimate relationship.
For those seeking relief from domestic abuse in New Jersey, there are essentially two options: civil and criminal. Victims can use the civil justice system and family court to get a restraining order forbidding the abuser from contacting them. A second option is to charge the abuser with a crime, such as assault, and go through the criminal justice system. An abuser who is found guilty can be sentenced to jail or probation.
According to 2015 New Jersey Courts data, however, eight in 10 municipal domestic violence cases in the state are dismissed, almost double the rate for other disorderly-persons offenses. While roughly 43 percent of new domestic violence cases are heard in municipal court, municipal prosecutors are not required to obtain specific training on the issue.
A bill recently passed in the State Assembly would make this training mandatory, and there are several bills before the state Legislature to require more training for judges, judicial personnel, law-enforcement officers and county prosecutors. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence has also issued recommendations for overhauling the legal system’s response to violence, but there still is much work to be done.
If you or a loved one are affected by domestic abuse and need legal advice, we are here to help. Contact us confidentially at 973-509-8500 x213 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.