New Jersey Law

In New Jersey, everyone has a legal right to be free from physical harm, abuse and threats in their personal life. If you live in fear for your personal safety, you should know what actions you can take and what legal remedies are available to you. This web page is designed to help you to understand the legal protection available for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including information on stalking and restraining orders.

Domestic Violence Law

In New Jersey, you have a legal right to be free from physical harm, abuse and threats in your personal life. If you live in fear for your personal safety, you should know what actions you can take and what legal remedies are available to you. This Web site is designed to help you to understand the legal protection that is available for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including information on stalking and restraining orders.

The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

Does This Law Apply to My Situation and Me?

This law applies to you if you are a person 18 years of age or older, or an emancipated minor, subjected to domestic violence by a spouse or former spouse, a present or former household member or someone with whom you have a child in common. This law also applies to you if you are subjected to domestic violence within a dating relationship, regardless of your age (under or over 18). You do not have to be married or living with the abuser in order to be protected.

How Do I Know If I Am a Victim Of Domestic Violence Under the Law?

You are a victim of domestic violence if you have experienced…

  • Beatings or physical attacks, such as kicking, slapping, punching or hair pulling
  • Threats that make you fear serious injury to yourself or your children
  • Threats that make you fear for your life
  • Imprisonment within your own home or at another location
  • Forced sexual contact or rape under threats of harm to yourself or someone you care about
  • Embarrassment or alarm because of lewd or shocking behavior
  • Damage to your personal property
  • Forced entry into your home, with or without a weapon
  • Threats with a weapon, such as a gun or knife
  • Repeated verbal humiliation and attacks

For a more in-depth look at this law, please visit: the New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s publication “Domestic Violence: The Law and You (Second Edition)” or the New Jersey Judiciary page of domestic violence laws.

Sexual Assault Law

The law in New Jersey regarding rape has changed significantly in the last few years. The term rape was replaced with sexual assault, allowing a broader definition of punishable offenses. Sex crimes in New Jersey fall under Chapter 2C of the Criminal Code. The following are the laws in New Jersey pertaining to sexual assault:

2C:14-1 Definitions

  • “Actor” means a person accused of an offense proscribed under this act.
  • “Victim” means a person alleging to have been subjected to offenses proscribed by this act.
  • “Sexual Penetration” means vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse between persons or insertion of the hand, finger or object into the anus or vagina either by the actor or upon the actor’s instruction. The depth of insertion shall not be relevant to the question of commission of the crime.
  • “Sexual Contact” means an intentional touching by the victim or actor, either directly or through clothing, of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually arousing or sexually gratifying the actor. Sexual contact of the actor with himself must be in view of the victim whom the actor knows to be present.
  • “Intimate Parts” means the following body parts: sexual organs, genital area, anal area, inner thigh, groin, buttock or breast of a person.
  • “Severe Personal Injury” means severe bodily injury, disfigurement, disease, incapacitating mental anguish or chronic pain.
  • “Physically Helpless” means that condition in which a person is unconscious or is physically unable to flee or is physically unable to communicate unwillingness to act.
  • “Mentally Defective” means that condition in which a person suffers from a mental disease or defect which renders that person temporarily or permanently incapable of understanding the nature of his conduct, including, but not limited to, being incapable of providing consent.
  • “Mentally Incapacitated” means that condition in which a person is rendered temporarily incapable of understanding or controlling his conduct due to the influence of a narcotic, anesthetic, intoxicant or other substance administered to that person without his prior knowledge of consent, or due to any other act committed upon that person which rendered that person incapable of appraising or controlling his conduct.
  • “Coercion” as used in this chapter shall refer to those acts which are defined as criminal coercion in section 2C: 13-5(1), (2), (3), (4), (6) and (7).

2C: 14-2a Sexual Assault

a. An actor is guilty of aggravated sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with another person under any one of the following circumstances: (1) The victim is less than 13 years old. (2) The victim is at least 13 but less than 16 years old; and a. The actor is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree; or b. the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim; or c. the actor is a foster parent, a guardian, or stands in loco parentis within the household; (3) The act is committed during the commission, or attempted commission, whether alone or with one or more other persons, of robbery, kidnapping, homicide, aggravated assault on another, burglary, arson, or criminal escape; (4) The actor is armed with a weapon or any object fashioned in such a manner as to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a weapon and threatens by word or gesture to use the weapon or object; (5) The actor is aided or abetted by one or more other persons and the actor uses physical force or coercion; (6) The actor uses physical force or coercion and severe personal injury is sustained by the victim; (7) The victim is one whom the actor knew or should have known was physically helpless, mentally defective or mentally incapacitated.

Aggravated sexual assault is a crime of the first degree.

2C: 14-2b,c Sexual Assault

a. An actor is guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual contact with a victim who is less than 13 years old and the actor is at least 4 years older than the victim. b. An actor is guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with another person under any one of the following circumstances: (1) The actor uses physical force or coercion, but the victim does not sustain severe personal injury; (2) The victim is one whom the actor knew or should have known was physically helpless, mentally defective, or mentally incapacitated; (3) The victim is on probation or parole, or is detained in a hospital, prison, or other institution and the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim by virtue of the actor’s legal, professional or occupational status; (4)The victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old and: a. The actor is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree; or b. the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim; or c. the actor is a foster parent, a guardian, or stands in loco parentis within the household; (5) The victim is at least 13 but less than 16 years old and the actor is at least 4 years older than the victim.

Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree.

2C:14-3a Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact

a. An actor is guilty of aggravated criminal sexual contact if he commits an act of sexual contact with the victim under any circumstances set forth in 2C:14-2a (2) through (6). See above.

Aggravated criminal sexual contact is a crime of the third degree.

2C:14-3b Criminal Sexual Contact

a. An actor is guilty of criminal sexual contact if he commits an act of sexual contact with the victim under any of the circumstances set forth in 2C:14-2a (1) through (5). See above.

Criminal sexual contact is a crime of the fourth degree.

2C:14-4 Lewdness

a. A person commits a disorderly persons offense if he does any flagrantly lewd and offensive act which he knows or reasonably expects is likely to be observed by other non-consenting persons who would be affronted or alarmed. b. A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if: (1) He exposes his intimate parts for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the actor or of any other person under circumstances where the actor knows or reasonably expects he is likely to be observed by a child who is less than 13 years of age where the actor is at least four years older than the child. (2) He exposes his intimate parts for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the actor or of any other person under circumstances where the actor knows or reasonably expects he is likely to be observed by a person who because of mental disease or defect is unable to understand the sexual nature of the actor’s conduct. c. As used in this section: “lewd acts” shall include the exposing of the genitals for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the actor or of any other person.

Stalking Law

A person may be charged with stalking if that person purposely and repeatedly follows a victim or member of the victim’s family and engages in conduct which alarms or annoys the victim or members of the victim’s family, such as:

  • Sending anonymous letters or other mailings, including email
  • Making persistent phone calls with or without messages
  • Sending unwanted gifts
  • Threatening the safety of the victim or members of her/his family so as to annoy or place the victim (or members of her/his family) in reasonable fear

The stalker may be someone you know (a friend, co-worker, acquaintance), someone you once had a relationship with or a complete stranger. Stalking does not have to be sexual in nature. Stalkers direct their attention to a specific person, or to that person’s family or friends.

New Jersey Statutes 2C:12-10: Stalking

A person is guilty of stalking if he purposefully or knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress. Stalking is a crime of the fourth degree. A second or subsequent stalking offense against the same victim is a crime of the third degree. Stalking is a crime of the third degree if committed:

  • As a second or subsequent offense of stalking against the same victim
  • In violation of an existing court order prohibiting stalking:
    • While serving a term of imprisonment
    • While on parole or probation as the result of a conviction for any indictable offense under any state or federal law.

The law refers to “course of conduct” as follows: course of conduct: repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person; directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, following, monitoring, observing, surveilling, threatening, or communicating to or about, a person, or interfering with a person’s property; repeatedly committing harassment against a person; or repeatedly conveying, or causing to be conveyed, verbal or written threats or threats conveyed by any other means of communication or threats implied by conduct or a combination thereof directed at or toward a person.

If found guilty of stalking…

  • A first-time offender can be sentenced to a term of up to 18 months in prison and/or a fine up to $7,500.
  • A person committing any violation of an existing court order prohibiting stalking can be sentenced to a term of between 3 and 5 years in prison and/or up to a $7,500 fine.
  • A second-time offender (or subsequent offender) can be sentenced to a term of between 3 and 5 years in prison and/or up to a $7,500 fine.

Restraining Orders

A restraining order is a Court order intended to protect you from further harm from someone who has hurt you, to keep an abuser away from you or from harassing you, or to keep the abuser from the scene of the violence, which may include your home, place of work or apartment. It is a civil order and does not give the defendant (the abuser) a criminal record.

Who Can Get a Restraining Order?

Any victim of domestic violence can obtain a restraining order. A “victim of domestic violence” means a person protected by the law and shall include any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse or any other person who is a present or former household member, who is 18 years of age or older or who is an emancipated minor. A victim, of any age, who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has a child in common, or if the victim is pregnant by a man who she says will be the father of the child when the pregnancy is carried to term is also covered by this law. A victim, of any age, also includes any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim had a dating relationship. Domestic violence means the occurrence of one or more of the following acts committed against a victim by an adult or emancipated minor:

 

  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Criminal mischief
  • Criminal restraint
  • Criminal sexual assault
  • Criminal trespass
  • False imprisonment
  • Harassment
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Lewdness
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • Terroristic threats
What Does a Restraining Order Do?

If you are a victim of domestic violence, a judge can sign an order of protection that requires the abuser to obey the law. It is usually very specific. For example:

  • The abuser can be ordered not to have any contact with you, in person or by phone, at home, work or almost anywhere you ask the court to put in the order. The order against contact may also protect other people in your family.
  • The court can order the abuser to leave the house or apartment that you and the abuser share, even if it is the abuser’s.
  • Except in the most unusual situations, the court will grant you custody of your minor children.
  • The court can also order the abuser to pay child support and support you. The abuser may also be granted visitation with the child(ren) under certain conditions. If the children are in danger of abuse, you should let the judge know why you think so.
  • The court may order the abuser to pay for costs that resulted from the abuse; for example, household bills that are due right away, medical/dental treatment, moving expenses, loss of earnings. The judge can also make the abuser pay your attorney’s fees, and can make the abuser pay damages to you or other people who helped you or got hurt by the abuser.
  • The judge may order the abuser to receive professional domestic violence counseling, or tell the abuser to go get evaluated or go to AA or NA. You can agree to go to counseling if you want (or a free program like AA or AlAnon), but the judge will only make it an order for the abuser.
  • The judge can order the police to escort the abuser to remove personal items from the residence or shared place of business, so that you are protected by the police during any necessary contact.

The judge has the power under the law to order anything else that will help to protect you, as long as you agree to it.

How Do I File a Restraining Order?

Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., except on a holiday, you can go to the Domestic Violence Unit of the Family Division of Superior Court and apply for the order. Court employees will help you file the papers on forms they will provide. If it is after the end of the court day, a holiday or a weekend, you can go to your local police department to obtain an order. They have the forms and can call a judge or get an order that starts immediately. You may be asked to speak to the judge by telephone, unless the judge chooses to come to the court to hear your testimony directly.

If English is not a language you usually speak, you may want to bring a friend with you to interpret. An interpreter may be provided for you any time you are scheduled to appear in court, but might not be available at the police station. You should call Family Court to request an interpreter for your court hearing.

How Long Does a Restraining Order Stay in Effect?

When you first get protection under the law, it is only temporary. The order is called a TRO, or Temporary Restraining Order. You must return to court on the date indicated in the TRO, which will be in about 10 days. Both you and the abuser will be asked to appear in court on that date. During the 10-day period, the police or Sheriff’s Office will serve the abuser with a copy of the order, so the abuser will know when the hearing is scheduled. Keep a copy of the order with you and give a copy to the police in any town where you think the abuser might bother you.

What Happens in Court?

If you apply for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in the Family Division of Superior Court, you will appear before a judge so you can tell him/her what happened. You will usually appear before a judge without the abuser being present. When you return to court on the date indicated in your order, the abuser has a right to be present. Both you and the abuser will have the opportunity to tell the judge what happened between you. You are allowed to bring a lawyer to this hearing, but it is purely your choice.

At the end of this hearing, the judge will determine if you should receive a final order, for how long and under what conditions. If the abuser does not appear at the hearing, the judge will either continue the temporary order in effect until the abuser can be brought into court, or will enter a final order if there is proof that the abuser was served with the TRO/Notice to Appear. The sheriff or police should have proof of service. You cannot be asked or told to serve papers on the abuser.

If you do not appear, and have not made arrangements with the court to reschedule the case, someone from the court will attempt to contact you by phone at home or work or they may send you a certified letter if you have no phone. The courts take domestic violence very seriously, and will be worried about your safety if you do not call. If they cannot find you, your restraining order may be dismissed, and you will no longer have the protection granted in the order.

What Happens Next?

The court will give you a copy of the order. Be sure to ask someone before you leave the court if there is anything you do not understand. Carry it with you at all times. If the abuser does not obey the order, call the police. The police can arrest an abuser who violates any part of the order that protects you from threats or violence.

You have the right to police protection. If you carry your order with you at all times, it will be easier for the police to understand your current situation. If you lose your order, or it gets destroyed, return to the court and obtain another copy.


What Can I Do if the Order is Violated?

Call the Family Court Domestic Violence Unit if the abuser’s only violation is failure to return personal property, failure to pay support or rent, not complying with custody or visitation conditions or failing to attend domestic violence counseling. In these cases, the Family Division will process your request to enforce the order.

If the abuser violates any of the other parts of the order, call the police. For some violations (having contact with you or coming to the house, for example), or if the abuser violated the order by committing a crime (for example, stalking you, harassing you or trespassing), the local police must sign a criminal complaint for contempt.


Can I File Criminal Charges?

You can file criminal charges against the abuser for acts of domestic violence, because they are all crimes. Criminal charges can only be filed at the local police department, and they will usually be heard at the local municipal court. For very serious crimes, the county prosecutor may take your case to state criminal court. You do not have to file criminal charges, but the law does allow you to file them if you choose, even if you also get a restraining order. You have at least a year after any incident to file criminal charges. The police can also file charges on their own and must do so when you show signs of injury or if a weapon was used. If the abuser is found guilty of the criminal charges, the court can impose fines, probation or even jail as punishment.

For more information on restraining orders, please visit: http://www.state.nj.us/dca/dow/publications.shtml.

For out-of-state restraining orders, go to http://www.nj.gov/lps/dcj/agguide/9dvout0.pdf.

Information provided by the New Jersey Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline and distributed by the Office on the Prevention of Violence Against Women.

More Information on Restraining Orders

For more information on restraining orders, please visit: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/hudson/family/domestic.html.

For out-of-state restraining orders, go to http://www.nj.gov/lps/dcj/agguide/9dvout0.pdf.

Information provided by the New Jersey Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline and distributed by the Office on the Prevention of Violence Against Women.

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