Trenton, NJ – In a unanimous decision, the New Jersey Senate moved closer to passing a bill aimed at addressing a critical gap in the state’s stalking and harassment laws. The proposed legislation seeks to provide victims of stalking or cyber harassment with stronger protections when they become targets of strangers.
The bipartisan bill, which has gained significant support, aims to eliminate what is commonly referred to as the “stranger loophole.” This loophole often hinders victims from seeking protective orders against individuals they have no familial ties with, making it more challenging, if not impossible, for them to find recourse.
Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), the primary sponsor of the bill, emphasized the importance of closing this legal loophole. “While most stalkers tend to be current or former partners, in nearly one-fifth of cases, the perpetrator is a stranger. Stalking can go on for months or even years, forcing people to live in fear with no legal recourse until the situation escalates,” said Greenstein in a statement.
If enacted, the legislation would grant victims the ability to protect themselves before a situation worsens. The proposed protective orders would not only prohibit alleged assailants from contacting victims but also prevent them from entering the victim’s workplace, residence, and other locations as specified in the court-issued orders. Additionally, the bill would encompass future acts of stalking, cyber harassment, and sexual assault under its protective umbrella.
Currently, New Jersey law permits victims of domestic violence to seek protective orders for stalking and cyber harassment. However, the existing Sexual Assault and Survivor Protection Act does not extend the same protection to victims without a prior relationship with their assailants. The bill aims to rename this act as the Victims Assistance and Survivor Protection Act and broaden its scope accordingly.
While existing laws do allow adult victims of stalking to obtain restraining orders against strangers, such actions require the perpetrator to first be convicted on related charges. This limitation has hindered law enforcement from efficiently handling harassment complaints from certain victims. “They can’t take her to a court and get a restraining order against this guy because she never dated him or has no relationship, so what do you have to do? You then have to go to the court, fill out a criminal complaint, and now it comes up in the municipal court,” explained Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union), one of the bill’s sponsors. “If you’ve had any experience in municipal court, it’s a nightmare.”
Under the proposed legislation, acts such as electronic threats to commit violence, the release or threat to release obscene photos, or the intent to commit a crime would fall under the definition of cyber harassment.
The bill now awaits a full vote in the Assembly, where lawmakers will have the opportunity to endorse this crucial expansion of protections for stalking and harassment victims.
In other news, the Senate has also unanimously concurred with Gov. Phil Murphy’s conditional veto of a bill regarding the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. Additionally, senators unanimously voted in favor of a measure requiring public contractors to submit payroll records electronically, with the Assembly set to vote on the matter later this week.