April 12, 2016

Assembly Approves Legislation to Support and Protect Crime Victims in Observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week

Legislative Package Strengthens Law Against Criminal Sexual Acts and
Provides Protections & Support for Domestic and Human Trafficking Victims

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol and Governmental Operations Committee Chair Crystal Peoples-Stokes today announced the passage of legislation that protects and supports crime victims, including victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, as part of the Assembly's observance of the 2016 National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

"My Assembly colleagues and I strongly believe in helping individuals who through no fault of their own suffer from serious mental and physical injuries and are struggling to put their lives back together after having been the victim of a crime," said Heastie. "The legislation we approved today will help crime victims recover from the violence they experienced by providing vital support, including housing, counseling, protection, job training and medical assistance."

"The pain and suffering of crime victims continues long after the crime has been committed. For this reason, the Legislation we pass today would ensure the availability of critical services and protections for crime victims as they move forward with rebuilding their lives," said Lentol.

"The legislative package we approved today recognizes that the pain and suffering crime victims experience is so traumatizing and disruptive to an individual's life that we as a state need to do everything in our power to help with their healing process," said Peoples-Stokes. "With these bills, we ensure crime victims and their families have access to the supportive services they need."

Strengthen Law Against Sexual Predators

The Assembly's 10 bill crime victims' package addresses some of the difficulties crime victims face, including the need to strengthen the state's sexual assault laws in order to provide justice to victims. Under this bill (A.4959, Simotas), the penetration requirement is removed from the crime of rape to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

The definition of rape is also changed to ensure that other forms of sexual assault are recognized as rape and that victims receive the resources and compassion they deserve.

Crime Victim Housing Protection

Included in the legislation is a bill (A.1322, Lavine) to establish the right of domestic violence victims, and others who require emergency assistance, to call police or another emergency protection service without having to fear that such a call could cost their housing.

The measure clarifies that the act of seeking lifesaving assistance by a victim of domestic violence, who is usually a woman with children, cannot result in an eviction that is based on a violation of a local nuisance law. The bill also protects landlords from being charged with failing to act against violators of a local nuisance law when it involves crime victimes who are seeking emergency assistance.

Human Trafficking Victim Support

With the growing incidences of human trafficking occurring in communities throughout the state, this legislative package also advances several measures that would improve the support available to the victims of this modern day form of slavery. One such bill (A.2953, Lentol) would enhance law enforcement's detection and identification of human trafficking activity and strengthen a victim's ability to more safely assist with the arrest of their traffickers.

The measure also would increase the availability of short-term and long-term safe houses, through the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. In addition to serving as a place of refuge for victims from their trafficker, these safe houses will provide a range of support programs such as legal counseling, life skills assistance, and substance and alcohol abuse services.

Other human trafficking legislation approved today by the Assembly would:

Additional Crime Victim Assistance Bills

The Assembly's crime victims' legislative initiatives also would:

Currently, the state parole board does not become aware of a crime victim's statement unless the victims themselves reach out to the board many years after the crime. This final bill (A.6945, Walker) in the package would change that by requiring the prosecuting district attorneys to provide the board with the statements filed by crime victims or their families. This legislation would ensure that the voices of crime victims are heard and are part of the board's considerations as to whether an inmate is to be paroled.