Sexual assault is a serious matter that leaves the person attacked feeling vulnerable and scared. It's more common than many realize, and it need not be violent to be traumatic. Sexual assault may be carried out by a wide range of people of all types and sizes–family members, casual acquaintances, work colleagues, and strangers. New Jersey provides a way for victims to obtain legal protection from their attackers, whether or not they choose to file a criminal police report.
New Jersey's Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act allows anyone who has experienced a sexual assault to apply to a nearby court for a Sexual Assault Protective Order. The order requires the offender to refrain from harassing or coming near the victim, or risk going to jail.
What is Sexual Assault?
New Jersey defines “sexual assault” as:
- any nonconsensual sexual contact, whether actual or attempted;
- sexual penetration; or
“Nonconsensual sexual contact” means any sort of unwanted touching for the purpose of sexual gratification. “Attempted nonconsensual sexual contact” occurs when someone takes an action that a reasonable person would understand as an effort to do one of these things.
“Lewdness” includes exposing intimate parts for the purpose of gratification, more commonly known as flashing.
The Difference Between Sexual Assault Protective Orders and Domestic Violence Restraining Orders
New Jersey law distinguishes Sexual Assault Protective Orders from Domestic Violence Restraining Orders, which are issued when the two people are or previously were in domestic relationships. This encompasses those who have been in dating relationships (regardless of gender); couples who have had or are expecting a child; couples who are or were married; or other people who once lived together under the same roof.
In all other situations, even where the offender is a former friend or a relative, a sexual-assault victim seeking a protective order needs to apply for a Sexual Assault Protective Order. Once granted, the order forbids the offender from having any sort of contact with the victim–whether in person, in writing, transmitted electrically (via text message, email, or social media), on the phone, or through a third party. It also forbids the offender from following the victim, stalking them, or making threats to do any of these things. Violating the order is a criminal act that will lead to a police arrest.
How and Where To Apply for a Sexual Assault Protective Order
An application for a Sexual Assault Protective Order should be filed in the Family Division of the Superior Court. It can be filed at the courthouse closest to where the offense occurred, where one of the two parties lives, or where the victim is currently sheltered. There is never a filing fee. A victim should initially request a temporary protective order (TPO), which takes effect as soon as it is granted.
The Lento Law Firm Can Help
The court's Family Division has staff members on hand who can help fill out the forms, but the paperwork can be overwhelming to anyone not familiar with the process. Hiring an experienced legal advocate such as Joseph D. Lento to help the victim prepare the paperwork, organize their thoughts, and prepare their testimony can go a long way toward easing strain and anxiety.
Because of the urgency of the situation, if the victim files the application on a weekday before 3:30 pm, the court will schedule a hearing that same day. All cases are heard by hearing officers who have been trained in the law concerning sexual assaults.
Whether the hearing officer grants the TPO or not, they will set a court date for a hearing to be held a week to ten days later where the victim can request a permanent order, known as a Final Protective Order. The week to ten-day period gives law enforcement the time to find and serve the request on the defendant.
Victims can be reassured to know that under current New Jersey law, the person requesting the protective order does not bear the burden of proving they did not consent to the assault. Instead, the defendant bears the burden of proof to show that permission to “engage in sexual activity was freely and affirmatively given.” This makes it considerably easier for a victim to obtain the order.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has assisted individuals on both sides of such matters. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.