Life changes dramatically for someone who is the victim of domestic violence. A domestic violence victim may feel alone and scared, but is available through the courts. A victim who has been in a violent relationship and feels unsafe may be able to take steps to keep the abuser away by filing a restraining order. A judge may grant a restraining order if the victim proves that he or she has been subjected to one of the 19 crimes set forth in the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (N.J.S.A 2C:33 et al.) and is in need of the protections of that order.
The explanations below are only interpretations of New Jersey’s criminal statutes. To better understand each crime, you may look up the New Jersey statutes listed in parentheses by the name of each crime. If you think you have been a victim of any of these crimes, you should contact an attorney or your local domestic violence agency.
Harassment (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4)
In order to commit the crime of harassment, a person must intend to harass another person. An example of harassment is when someone communicates with you at inconvenient hours or uses rude and profane language. A person may harass you using email, regular mail, phone calls, texting, face-to-face communications, or any other way that sends a message from the abuser to you. The abuser must intend to annoy or alarm you when making the communication.
A person may also be guilty of harassment if that person touches you in an offensive way. Offensive touch includes hitting, kicking, and pushing - even if you were not injured. Threatening to do any of these acts may also be considered harassment.
If someone does things repeatedly that are meant to scare or seriously annoy you, that person may also be guilty of harassment.
Assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1)
The most common example of an assault is when an abuser hurts a victim. There does not have to be a visible injury, just a feeling of pain. Assault can also be trying to harm a victim or threatening to harm them. The harm may or may not involve a deadly weapon. For example, if an abuser knowingly threatens you with a gun, whether or not it was loaded, and did not care that you could have been hurt, they may be guilty of assault.
Terroristic threats (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3)
An abuser who threatens to commit any violent crime with the purpose of terrorizing you may be guilty of terroristic threats. An abuser may also be guilty of terroristic threats if they threaten to kill you or someone else and you believe that the abuser can and will do it. A conditional threat (“If you do X, then I will kill you.”) may not meet the standard for a terroristic threat.
Criminal mischief (N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3)
An abuser who breaks any of your belongings on purpose may be guilty of criminal mischief. The property that the abuser breaks must belong to you, but it can also be property that you and the abuser own together. If an abuser tampers with your property in a way that puts you or your belongings in danger, the abuser may be guilty of criminal mischief. Common examples of criminal mischief include someone keying your car, punching a hole in the wall of your home, or breaking your cell phone.
Criminal restraint (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2)
An abuser who keeps you in a place that puts you at risk of serious bodily injury or keeps you somewhere and will not allow you to leave may be guilty of criminal restraint. For example, if you are locked in a room and the abuser begins attacking you, that is criminal restraint. Serious bodily injury means any injury that could be deadly or cause long-term disability. Criminal restraint may also exist if you are subjected to a life of servitude against your will.
False imprisonment (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-3)
If an abuser keeps you somewhere you do not want to be and will not let you go, the abuser may be guilty of false imprisonment. False imprisonment is different from criminal restraint in that false imprisonment does not require risk of serious bodily injury. For example, if a victim is restrained from leaving a particular area because of an abuser’s actions but is not injured in any way, the abuser may be found guilty of false imprisonment, but not criminal restraint.
Burglary (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2)
Burglary may be committed in two ways. If someone breaks into a house or other secured building and has the intent to commit a crime inside or if a person hides in a house or other secured building without permission to be there with the intent to commit a crime inside that house or building, that person may have committed an act of burglary.
Criminal sexual contact (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-1, 2C:14-3)
A person who uses actual force or coercion (such as bullying or threatening violence) to have sexual contact with another person may be guilty of criminal sexual contact. If the contact happens without freely given consent, it still may be considered force or coercion. Criminal sexual contact may also include situations where the abuser physically overpowers the victim. Sexual contact is defined as intentionally touching the victim’s thigh, groin, buttocks, or breast without the victim’s consent. The abuser must be doing this for personal sexual pleasure or to humiliate or degrade the victim.
Sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-1, 2C:14-2)
Sexual assault is any instance where an abuser uses force or coercion to sexually penetrate another person. Force or coercion may mean a time where the victim does not provide freely given consent to the sexual activity but may also include the abuser physically overpowering the victim. Sexual penetration means vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, or putting fingers or objects into the vagina or anus. It can be considered sexual assault if the penetration was done by the abuser personally or if the abuser ordered the victim to commit the penetration.
Kidnapping (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1)
Kidnapping is when an abuser takes a victim from where he or she is presently located to another location. To commit a kidnapping, it must be done by force, threat, or deception. Kidnapping may be defined as an abuser confining a victim as a hostage or for ransom. Kidnapping may also be defined as keeping a victim somewhere for a long time to hurt or scare the victim.
Stalking (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10, 2C:12-10.1)
A person is a stalker if that person, more than once, follows someone or sends other people to follow someone, interferes with the belongings of another person, harasses another person, or sends threats in any way to another person. The stalker must have done these actions on purpose and must have known that it was likely to make the victim feel scared or uncomfortable. A stalker may also stalk another person in order to scare them.
If an abuser is convicted of stalking in criminal court, the victim may receive a separate criminal restraining order. Parents may file a complaint for a restraining order based on stalking on behalf of their children.
Lewdness (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-4)
Lewdness is when a person does something “flagrantly lewd and offensive” in front of another person who would not want to see the offensive act. A common example of this is a person who exposes his or her private parts for their own gratification to a non-consenting person.
Criminal trespass (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3)
If someone enters or hides out in a house or other building and does not have permission to be there, that person may be guilty of criminal trespass. The person must also know that he or she did not have permission to be there.
If someone tells a person they cannot be on the property; or there is a guard keeping people out of a building or part of a building, a sign telling people not to enter, or a fence or locked door blocking people from entering; and a person ignores the signs, locked doors, fences, or security guard and enters anyway, that person may be guilty of criminal trespass.
There are times when people do not expect to have anyone watching them, such as when they are sleeping or in the bathroom. If someone is peeking through windows to watch another person in a home, they may be guilty of criminal trespass if the person being watched did not reasonably expect to be watched.
Homicide (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-1 to 2C:11-4)
Homicide is the crime of one person causing the death of another person. An attempted homicide may be part of a final restraining order hearing.
Criminal Coercion (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-5)
Criminal coercion means that someone tries to make you do something or tries to stop you from doing something by threatening you that they will: hurt you or someone else, commit a crime, accuse someone else of committing a crime, expose a secret that would damage your reputation or your credit, testify or not testify in court, or do something to damage your health, safety, career, or personal relationships. Criminal coercion is more than just a threat. The threat must be connected to trying to force you to do something.
Robbery (N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1)
Robbery occurs when someone steals something from you while at the same time hurting you, threatening to hurt you, using force, or committing or threatening to commit certain other crimes.
Contempt of a domestic violence restraining order (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9)
If you already have a temporary restraining order or a final restraining order and the abuser calls, emails, texts, shows up at your home or work, or in any way contacts you, that is a violation of the restraining order. The violation should result in the arrest of the abuser. In the case of a temporary restraining order, the violation would allow you to go to court to amend (add information to) the temporary restraining order by including contempt of a domestic violence order as an additional crime for the court to consider in the trial for the final restraining order.
Cyber-harassment (N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1)
Cyber-harassment is when someone threatens online to harm you or your property or someone else or their property. It is also when someone posts, comments, requests, suggests or proposes any “indecent” or “obscene” material about you with the intent to emotionally harm you or place you in fear of physical or emotional harm. If someone uses Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or another online forum to threaten you with harm or if someone posts intimate photographs of you online or threatens to do so, they may be committing cyber-harassment.
Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury
If someone has committed a crime against you that involves risk of death or serious bodily injury, that may constitute an act of domestic violence. Arson and neglect of an elderly person are two examples of crimes that may put someone at risk of death or serious bodily injury.
If you need help with a domestic violence situation, you may contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at www.lsnjlawhotline.org or by calling 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). The hotline offers legal representation and advice to victims who cannot otherwise afford an attorney.
Handbook and self-help videos
Legal Services of New Jersey publishes a handbook, Domestic Violence: A Guide to the Legal Rights of Domestic Violence Victims in New Jersey, and provides a series of Restraining Order Videos to walk you through the process of obtaining a temporary or final restraining order.
This information last reviewed: Sep 26, 2022