Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) Procedures for Obtaining a Temporary Protective Order Have Been Modified to Address Covid-19 (from NJ Courts)
The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act provides greater protection to victims of sexual offenses. The law allows victims of sexual offenses to obtain a protective order. You can read the law at N.J.S.A. 2C:14-13 et seq.
What is a protective order?
Protective orders are intended to provide safety to victims of a sexual offense (described below). A victim of a sexual offense does not have to report the crime to the police. It is possible to receive a final protective order without ever speaking with the police. Victims may report the crime to the police, but it is not required.
A protective order is a court order that forbids an offender from having any contact with a victim. Contact includes in-person, written, electronic, telephonic, or through third parties. In addition to not contacting the victim, the offender also cannot contact their family, household members, employer, or co-workers. It also prohibits the offender from entering the victim’s home, school, or job.
A protective order also prohibits an offender from committing any future sexual offense against the victim. The protective order tells the offender that he or she cannot stalk (keep an eye on) or follow the victim. The offender may not threaten to stalk or follow the victim. The offender may not harass the victim in person or online by contacting them through social media or other ways online.
A protective order is a two-step process. First, a temporary protective order is granted. Second, a hearing or trial is held approximately 10 days later to determine if a final protective order should be entered to provide the victim with permanent protection from abuse. More information about how to get a protective order is described below.
Who can get a protective order?
A protective order is like a domestic violence restraining order except you don’t have to have a relationship with the offender. Any victim of a sexual offense, regardless of whether or not they knew the offender, can apply for this protective order. This law allows a victim to get a protective order even if the victim and offender were strangers, neighbors, or co-workers. If the offender was a stranger, you will need to give the court some identifying information so the court can serve the order (make sure the person receives the legal document) on the offender.
Victims under the age of 18 or those with a developmental disability must have their parent or guardian file the protective order on their behalf. Protective orders cannot be filed against offenders under the age of 18. A sexual offense committed by a minor offender should be reported to the police.
The court must enter a protective order when it is likely that the order will protect the safety and well-being of a victim.
Victims are not eligible for a protective order if they can get a domestic violence restraining order. If the offender who committed a sexual offense against you is someone to whom you are or were married, share a child, were or are dating, or someone you ever lived with, then you should file a domestic violence restraining order. The protection you receive from the court is the same.
What is a sexual offense?
In order to get a protective order, the victim has to be a victim of nonconsensual sexual contact. This means that you did not agree or give permission for the other person to sexually touch or expose themselves to you. This contact may include exposing or touching intimate parts or sexual penetration. Even attempted touching, exposure, or penetration are covered under the law.
Sexual contact is when the offender (or the victim at the offender’s instruction) touches the victim or offender’s intimate parts. This touching could be either directly or through clothing. The purpose of the touching must be to degrade or humiliate the victim or for the sexual excitement of the offender.
Sexual penetration is vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex, or insertion into the anus or vagina by the offender’s (or at the offender’s instruction) hand, finger, or an object.
Lewdness is when the offender exposes his/her genitals. This exposure must be for the purpose of sexual satisfaction of the offender or another person.
Intimate parts include sexual organs, the genital or anal area, inner thigh, groin, buttock, or breast.
How do I get a protective order?
To apply for a protective order, you should go to the Superior Court between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. If the court is closed, you will not be able to file a protective order.
You can go to the county courthouse where the offense occurred, where either you or the offender lives, or where you are sheltered. If you cannot get to the courthouse, an exception can be made to still allow you to apply for the order. So, if you are in the hospital and cannot travel, you can still ask for this protection from the court. You do not have to report the crime to the police, but you may do so. You will not be turned away by the court if you have not reported the crime to the police.
What happens after I get a temporary protective order?
The offender will be served with a copy of the order. This means that they will be given a copy either by the police or a sheriff’s officer. Once they are given a copy of the order, they must follow it. If the offender does not follow the protections in the order, you should notify the police immediately to report a violation of the order.
After you receive a temporary protective order, a hearing in front of a judge will be scheduled approximately 10 days later. To decide if the temporary order should be made final, the judge considers:
- The sexual offense committed, and
- The possibility of future risk to the victim’s safety or well-being.
These two elements must be proven true by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence simply means that it is more likely that they occurred than that they did not.
The protective order will not be denied because:
- A victim did not report the act to the police,
- A victim was intoxicated,
- The victim did not leave the location to avoid the sexual contact, or
- There is no physical injury.
The trial may not involve any testimony regarding the victim’s previous sexual conduct nor the victim’s dress when the incident occurred.
If a final protective order is entered, it lasts for the rest of the victim’s lifetime or until there is a further order of the court. Final protective orders are placed on a central registry. This registry is confidential and accessible only by specified agencies including police, court, and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
If you are the victim and would like legal advice regarding a protective order, please call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). You may also apply for help online.