Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle is a primary sponsor of three of the four bills up for review. (Courtesy of New Jersey Assembly Democrats)
Amid reports of domestic violence abuse surging during the pandemic, state lawmakers will consider new measures to strengthen protections for New Jersey’s domestic violence survivors.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) is a primary sponsor of two of the bills.
“There probably already is training taking place, but this codifies that into law,” she said. “When you look at what the pandemic has done for mental health and how it has exacerbated domestic violence fatalities, this is just one more step to save lives and prevent another tragedy.”
Current law requires judges and law enforcement to be trained in handling domestic violence cases, but the pending bill would expand the training. For municipal prosecutors, domestic violence training now is voluntary, and the bill under consideration would make it mandatory.
Under the measures, all municipal and Superior Court judges and judicial personnel would take training on dynamics of domestic violence, the impact on children, intervention, and domestic violence risk factors and lethality. Municipal court judges would receive additional training on issuing temporary restraining orders during emergent situations — like the pandemic, which saw a large spike in restraining orders.
Police would be subject to in-service training once every three years. While many officers currently receive online training, lawmakers may require in-person learning. Prosecutors, both county and municipal, would also have to complete four-hour training programs.
Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee are expected to vote on the bills Monday.
Diane Williams, the CEO of Jersey Battered Women’s Service, said it’s incredibly important for judges, prosecutors, and police to be subject to training because each of these people will come in contact with a survivor.
“Decisions they make in their line of work daily will have short and long term implications for survivors and their children and for even those that are perpetuating the abuse. How could training not be required? Why is it even a question?” Williams said.
A fourth bill (S3105), which also includes Vainieri Huttle as a prime sponsor, would require authorities to notify victims when they return seized or surrendered firearms to someone charged with a domestic violence offense. It’s scheduled for a vote Monday before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
A report released by the Family Practice Division of the New Jersey Courts in September showed 35,000 domestic violence cases were filed in the courts in 2020, despite COVID-related court closures. In 2019, 33,600 cases were reported.
Experts say there are likely hundreds more that should have been filed, but survivors may have been deterred because the pandemic resulted in less time away from their abusers.
Jessica Miles, an associate professor with Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice, noted because of pandemic-related closures, domestic violence victims were forced to file more complaints with local police instead of court officials. Often-strained relationships between police and Black and brown residents may have led to fewer cases, Miles said.
“People had to go to the police, and so many clients didn’t want to, or are just told by the police, ‘You have to fill this out in your car.’ So you might have someone, who has just been beaten up, being told to fill out paperwork she’s never seen before, and you’re not sure if you’re going to be safe or taken into custody because nothing is explained,” she said.
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