Unveiling the Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act (VASPA) in New Jersey Domestic Violence Law

Unveiling the Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act (VASPA) in New Jersey Domestic Violence Law

Domestic violence law is set to change at the beginning of 2024. On July 24, 2023, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act, or VASPA, into effect after the law passed unanimously through State Legislature. VASPA will expand protections to those who were previously unprotected by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991 and the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) of 2015.

Under PDVA and SASPA, an individual in New Jersey could only obtain a Restraining Order against someone else if the individual could first establish the presence of a domestic relationship (such as a spouse, sibling, or paramour) or if they had evidence that they were the victim of a sex crime (rape, sexual contact, or lewdness).

Under the new Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act, someone who is a victim of cyber harassment or stalking—as defined by New Jersey Criminal Code—can now obtain a Restraining Order against another regardless of their relationship.

The Current Law in NJ

Up until January 2024, prior to VASPA taking effect, victims of stalking and cyber harassment by strangers had no protection in New Jersey. This meant that, while victims could file a criminal charge against a stalker or harasser, there was no way a victim could obtain a protective order.

Imagine you are a college student in New Jersey. A classmate, someone who you have no acquaintance or relationship with, suddenly starts following you everywhere. When they are not physically near, this individual bombards you with phone calls and direct messages. They threaten to launch a smear campaign if you do not give them attention. When their “love” goes unrequited, they do as promised, posting obscene material about you all over the internet.

Before VASPA, the victim could not seek recourse for what their stalker had done. While you could launch a complaint, action against them could only be taken if they were brought to court and found guilty by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

In other words, it was impossible for anyone to receive a restraining order in these kinds of situations.

What Happens When VASPA Goes Into Effect?

When VASPA goes into effect in January 2024, victims of stalking and cyber harassment, such as the kind mentioned in the previous example, will be able to file for a Temporary Restraining Order or TRO. The TRO may eventually become a Final Restraining Order (FRO) after a hearing to verify the validity of a victim’s claims.

This considerable amendment to New Jersey’s law will greatly expand the potential pool of TRO applicants. It’s a truly historic move.

How Will VASPA Hearings Proceed?

Hearings under VASPA will proceed in a similar fashion to those under TRO and SASPA applications. This means that alleged victims of stalking and cyber harassment will be able to seek TROs under VASPA ex parte (or unilaterally) from the Family Divisions of the Superior Court where they reside, where the alleged offender resides, or where the alleged offenses occurred.

When filed, the TRO’s effect will be statewide.

From there, the matter will proceed to a hearing, where the Judge of the Superior Court will determine if the predicate acts of either stalking or cyber harassment as defined in the state Criminal Code have occurred by a preponderance of the evidence. This is favorable for the victim, because it means that they would have a much lower burden of proof to establish their claim. The Judge will also determine if the victim requires protection from the court.

If these things can be established through preponderance, the TRO will become a Final Restraining Order, and all damages that come from having an FRO established against the individual also come into effect. These damages include but are not limited to the offender’s name being placed in a central registry, ineligibility to purchase a firearm, and issues with interstate and international travel.

A violation of an FRO established under VASPA will work as any other, meaning that the alleged offender will be prosecuted criminally for Contempt, which may result in up to 18 months in State Prison.

Things to Know About VASPA

There are a couple of things to know about VASPA. First and foremost, VASPA does not mean that anyone can obtain a TRO against any other person for any reason. The list of predicate acts for which a spouse, for example, can obtain a TRO includes Harassment and Assault, and a host of other prohibited conduct.

VASPA, which again allows non-domestic relations to apply for protection, only allows for the predicate acts that existed under SASPA (sexual crimes) and now specifically, Stalking and Cyber Harassment (itself only being made a crime in 2014). So, for example, simply because your neighbor is harassing you will not allow you to avail yourself of VASPA protection. VASPA will not protect you from that co-worker who always eats your lunch out of the company refrigerator.

Furthermore, the introduction of VASPA means that the Superior Court may have to delay hearings that already existed in FRO and SASPA dockets as more TRO cases are filed.

Who Is Not Covered By VASPA?

Unfortunately, juveniles are not covered under VASPA. When it is alleged that the offenses proscribed by VASPA—stalking and cyber harassment—are committed by an unemancipated minor, the applicant cannot proceed under VASPA. Instead, they must proceed using the existing Code of Juvenile Justice.

Speak To A NJ Attorney About Your Rights and VASPA Today

Nevertheless, what is clear from the passage of VASPA, is whether you are the victim of stalking or cyber harassment and need its protection, or whether someone has sought out a TRO against you under VASPA, you will need the help of an experienced attorney. This means a New Jersey attorney who is not only well-versed in PDVA and SASPA but also the State Criminal Code.

At Ziegler Law Group, LLC, you will meet a team of attorneys who can walk you through the process of filing a TRO, whether it is through VASPA or another law. Get in touch with us today by calling 973-533-1100 or by filling out the contact form. It’s time for the justice you deserve.

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