Help in 2024 for Victims of Stalking and Cyber Harassment as SASPA Becomes VASPA 

cyberstalkingIn 2023, the New Jersey legislature took action to expand the protections of the Sexual Assault Survivors Protection Act, NJSA 2C:14-13, et seq. (SASPA). Effective January 1, 2024, the amended law allows victims of stalking or cyber-harassment to request restraining orders even in the absence of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. The law remains otherwise the same but has been retitled the “Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act” (VASPA).

Let’s unpack VASPA to see how updated provisions close loopholes and help victims of stalking and cyber harassment gain improved access to protection.

The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and SASPA

Under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), victims of 19 specified criminal offenses who have certain relationships with their abusers can obtain domestic violence restraining orders in family court. These relationships include spouses, former spouses, present or former household members, persons with whom the victim has a child in common, or with whom the victim anticipates having a child in common due to a current pregnancy, and persons with whom the victim has a current or former dating relationship.

In 2016, SASPA expanded the ability to apply for restraining orders to survivors of sexual offenses who had never had any kind of relationship with the offender. Covered offenses include nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, and attempts to commit such offenses. SASPA also permits survivors to apply for protective orders against alleged offenders without first filing criminal charges or reporting the matter to law enforcement.

Soon after SASPA went into effect, serious loopholes became apparent. A 2017 amendment ensured that New Jersey courts would recognize and provide for the enforcement of similar out-of-state protective orders. This early amendment also prevented parents who reported that their child had been sexually assaulted by another parent from using SASPA to avoid filing criminal charges against the offending parent. Parents now must report incidents of sexual assault to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency for investigation and possible legal action.

Another shortcoming of SASPA which took longer to recognize was its failure to cover victims of stalking or cyber-harassment. Accordingly, until this year, such victims were still required to prove that they had a domestic relationship within the meaning of the PVDA before they could seek protective orders.

Protective Orders against Stalking and Cyber-Harassment

Restraining orders can be particularly appropriate in instances of stalking or cyber-harassment. Stalking involves repetitive and highly distressing conduct while cyber-harassment involves one or more communications that frequently place victims in fear of ongoing danger. Both stalking and cyber-harassment are also activities that many offenders pursue regardless of any preexisting relationship with the victim. One need not look beyond the current political climate to understand that cyber harassment can be prompted by an offender’s perception of someone as an enemy based on minimal information. Sometimes the target is a stranger for whom an offender has developed an obsession. This could be anyone the offender happens to fixate upon—an actress, a co-worker, a random person who happens to ride the same commuter train.

In the 2020 cyber-harassment case of C.C. v. J.A.H., a court found that a dating relationship could exist even in the absence of a single physical “date.” In that case, the interactions between the offender and the victim consisted mainly of conversations at a gym and flirtations by text before the victim called a halt to the whole thing. In 2023, the legislature finally recognized the absurdity of requiring a victim of stalking or cyber-harassment to jump through hoops to prove the existence of a relationship covered by the DVPA. Under VASPA, such hoop-jumping is no longer required.

If you are being stalked or cyber-harassed by a partner, a spouse, or anyone else, we can help you get the legal protection under VASPA you need to stay safe. Contact us today to schedule your initial confidential consultation. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.

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