KEEPING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ISSUES AT THE FOREFRONT

It was a little less than a year ago when disturbing images of NFL player Ray Rice’s domestic abuse thrust violence towards women into our national conscience.  While the news headlines and nightly cable news discussions on the topic have subsided to a degree, combating the problems of domestic assault and sexual assault remain in the forefront of my agenda.

The Legislature recently passed A-4078, of which I was a prime sponsor, known as the “Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015”.  Experts in the field of sexual violence state that one of the biggest hurdles to combating sexual assault is the lack of reporting by the victims.  The complex emotions that assault victims may experience, including guilt, shame, embarrassment, and fear, all contribute to the failure to press charges against their attacker.  RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, estimates that 68 percent of sexual assaults in the United States are not reported to authorities, with a resultant 98 percent of assailants never spending a day in jail and free to assault again.  Prior to the passage of A-4078, sexual assault victims were unable to get protection if they had not pressed charges; with passage of the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015, the courts may issue a temporary protective order regardless of whether the victim has filed criminal charges.  The bill prohibits the alleged offender from having any contact or communication, including personal, written, telephone, or via electronic device, with victims and their family members, employers, and employees.   A-4078 was passed by the Assembly in February 2015, and passed by the Senate last month.  I anticipate that the bill will be signed into law soon.

I recently had the honor of accepting an appointment by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to the Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence.  The committee includes representatives from the three branches of government, with one member of each party from both houses of the Legislature.  The twenty-seven person committee represents a wide range of backgrounds and experience with domestic violence, including judges, lawyers, law enforcement, and New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women.  We have met and are continuing to meet to critically analyze the State’s efforts and policies on combating violence and aiding victims, looking at what we do well in the State and what could be improved.  The committee is working to draft policies and legislation, and make recommendations to the court system to provide excellent and consistent services across the State.

As part of my commitment to addressing the issue of domestic violence, I hosted a roundtable discussion at Kean University on May 27th with stakeholders from the profession of nursing, including chief nursing officers and hospital executives, school nurses, advanced practice psychiatric nurses, nursing educators, nurse attorneys, and the NJ Coalition for Battered Women.  As nurses are largest number of healthcare providers in the US, they are often the first professional interface with a victim of sexual or domestic violence—whether as a patient in the emergency room, or through contact during care for themselves or family members.   It is imperative that all nurses are properly educated and able to handle this delicate situation.  The topics discussed include current hospital policies, course requirements at our schools of nursing, and issues concerning protection of our young victims in the school system.  The goal of our members is to create an atmosphere where victims of domestic violence know they can openly discuss this issue with any nurse, and to create a consistent education model for nurses at all levels.  We are also looking at hospital policies that work well for the victims, and can be extended across the State.  The group will continue to work to reform policies, expand education and training for nursing students and active nurses, and make recommendations to the Board of Nursing.

I am extremely proud of the work we are doing in the State on the issue of domestic and sexual violence.  As a member of the Assembly Women and Children Committee and the Health Committee, I will continue to work on policies to protect women, men and children who are victims. The ad-hoc Committee on Domestic Violence and the members of the Nursing Roundtable will continue to work on recommendations to protect all victims.  We still have work to do, and I remain determined to make sure New Jersey does all it can to protect and support victims.