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New Jersey Expands Access to Restraining Orders for Victims of Sexual Offenses, Stalking and Cyber Harassment with the Enactment of VASPA

April 12, 2024 | Posted In Criminal Law, Sexual Assault

New Jersey recently enacted a new law that provides important protections to victims of sexual assault and other sexual offenses in the state. Under the new Victim Assistant Survivor Protection Act (VASPA), which took effect earlier this year, victims of sexual offenses can obtain a restraining order regardless of their relationship with their abuser, harasser or stalker.

This is an important development. Previously, only victims who qualified as “protected persons” could seek a restraining order under New Jersey law. “Protected persons” include spouses, partners, former spouses and partners, and other individuals who are (or were) involved in a domestic relationship. However, under VASPA, you do not need to be a “protected person” to seek protection.

As a result, restraining orders are now available to victims of sexual offenses in the following types of situations (among others):

  • Online harassment
  • In-person stalking
  • Sexual harassment at work
  • Sexual harassment at school
  • Sexual assault in any circumstances

Protections remain available to victims of domestic violence—these protections are simply extended to more victims under VASPA. If you are a victim, we encourage you to speak with a New Jersey restraining order lawyer about seeking a VASPA order as soon as possible.

What Victims of Sexual Offenses in New Jersey Need to Know About VASPA

While New Jersey’s new restraining order law is designed to make it easy for victims of sexual offenses to obtain protection (and while obtaining protection under VASPA is easier than obtaining protection under the outgoing Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA)), there are still some important details that victims need to know. Here are some key insights from the lawyers at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.:

The New Law Took Effect on January 1, 2024

New Jersey’s Victim Assistant Survivor Protection Act (VASPA) took effect on January 1, 2024. As a result, victims of sexual offenses in New Jersey can seek protection under the new law immediately. Once again, a relationship with the abuser, harasser or stalker is no longer required—so anyone who is a victim can use the new law to protect themselves.

Seeking Protection Under the New Law Involves Requesting a “VASPA Order”

Seeking protection under the new law involves requesting a “VASPA order” in the appropriate court. New Jersey’s Family Courts have the authority to issue a VASPA temporary protective order (TPO) immediately without the perpetrator’s involvement. The Family Courts can then issue a VASPA final protective order (FPO) after a formal hearing—which will typically be scheduled within 10 days. Victims can apply for a VASPA order during normal business hours in the Family Court located in the county:

  • Where the sexual offense occurred;
  • Where the victim resides; or,
  • Where the perpetrator resides.

VASPA Orders Are Available to Victims Over the Age of 18 and Parents or Guardians of Younger Victims

If you are age 18 or older, you can apply for a VASPA order at a New Jersey Family Court yourself (or you can hire a lawyer to file for you). If you are under age 18, your parent or guardian must apply on your behalf (your parent or guardian can also hire a lawyer).

Hiring a New Jersey Restraining Order Lawyer Isn’t Required, But It Is Recommended

If you need to seek a VASPA order as a victim of a sexual offense in New Jersey (or as the parent or guardian of a victim of a sexual offense in New Jersey), you can legally do so without hiring a lawyer. However, due to the seriousness of the situation at hand, hiring a lawyer—or at least talking to a lawyer—is still recommended. An experienced New Jersey restraining order lawyer will be able to help you make informed decisions, and if you wish, your lawyer can go to the Family Court on your behalf.

As the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office explains:

“[V]ictims and survivors may wish to consult with or obtain an attorney . . . . Victims and survivors may also contact their local domestic violence or sexual assault service provider to speak with an advocate who can assist with the application. While advocates cannot give legal advice or provide legal representation, they may be able to provide information, court accompaniment, or additional referrals to legal assistance.”

Several people have already contacted us with questions about seeking a VASPA order, and if you have questions, we are more than happy to help. Also, keep in mind that you will need to attend a hearing to obtain a final protective order (FPO), and at this stage, it will be important to have an advocate and representative who is familiar with the facts of your case.

VASPA Orders Can Provide Several Forms of Protection (and Violations Carry Serious Consequences)

Once you obtain a VASPA order, your abuser, harasser or stalker will be prohibited from committing any other sexual acts against you, and he or she will also be prohibited from contacting you or visiting your phone, school or place of work. The Family Court may impose additional restrictions or prohibitions as well. Our lawyers can help ensure that your VASPA order provides as many protections as possible. Under VASPA, violating a temporary or final protective order can lead to fines, jail time and other penalties.

VASPA Orders Can Last Indefinitely

If you receive a final protective order (FPO) under VASPA, the FPO will remain in place indefinitely. As the Attorney General’s Office explains, the protections in a VASPA FPO “exist forever, unless a party seeks to dissolve or amend the order before the judge.” If your abuser, harasser or stalker challenges your VASPA order in court, our lawyers can assist with preserving your protections as well.

Schedule an Appointment with a New Jersey Restraining Order Lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

The experienced restraining order lawyers at Helmer, Conley and Kasselman, P.A. can help you through the process of gathering evidence and seeking a VASPA order in the appropriate Family Court. We can also represent you at your final protective order hearing and in any subsequent legal matters. To learn more in a confidential consultation, call us at 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can reach you online today.

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