In October 2018, Governor Phil Murphy asked the Attorney General’s Office to study whether the state could take additional steps to support victims of sexual assault. The following month, the Attorney General announced a series of policy changes designed to make New Jersey a national model for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. At the heart of these policies is a commitment to treating victims with respect and understanding in the days, weeks, and months after reporting an assault.
- Ensuring a victim-centered approach. As part of the policy changes, the Attorney General issued the Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, Third Edition (“Standards”), which provide a set of fourteen protocols that prioritize the needs and concerns of sexual assault victims in New Jersey. The Standards focus on delivering services to victims in a timely and non-judgmental manner, including by:
- Ensuring the victim’s safety is the top priority;
- Respecting the integrity, choices, and autonomy of each victim;
- Protecting the victim’s privacy and confidential information;
- Identifying and responding to the obstacles some victims may face when seeking help; and
- Recognizing the importance of victim feedback in improving responses to sexual assault.
- Providing a “response team” for every victim. Under the Standards, victims may seek the assistance of a Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, which is available to any victim 13 years or older who reports an assault within five days. Each SART consists of a confidential sexual violence advocate (CSVA), a forensic nurse examiner (FNE), and a law enforcement officer. Victims may request SART services by calling 9-1-1 or presenting at a law enforcement agency, a healthcare facility, or a sexual violence service organization.
- Enhancing oversight of criminal investigations. Also in late 2018, the Attorney General issued a statewide directive that created new requirements and enhanced oversight for sexual assault investigations and prosecutions. The directive requires, among other things, that that police departments report sexual assault allegations to prosecutors within 24 hours, that prosecutors obtain supervisory approval for all decisions regarding criminal charges in sexual assault cases, and that, if a prosecutor declines to bring charges, that he or she provide the victim with an opportunity meet in person to learn why.
- Pushing back against federal efforts to weaken Title IX protections for students. In 2019, the Attorney General partnered with N.J. Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis to oppose a proposal by the U.S. Department of Education that would weaken federal law’s protections for students who have endured sexual violence and harassment. When the federal government pushed forward with new rules undermining Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, Attorney General Grewal led a coalition of state attorneys general in a lawsuit to protect students.
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