NEW JERSEY - October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  In New Jersey, the domestic violence laws fall under an act designed to prevent future acts and protect victims.

In Part I of this series, readers learned who can seek the court’s protection under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.  

In Part II, the focus is on what actually constitutes an act of domestic violence in New Jersey.

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Some states only consider physical abuse when it comes to domestic violence.  However, New Jersey ranks in the top five when it comes to strict domestic violence laws. Criminal charges are also associated with each of what is referred to as predicate acts of domestic violence.

Some of the items that the Legislature included in the law found at NJSA 2C:25-19 are self-explanatory. Meanwhile, even the courts find that some can be confused with regular disagreements between intimate partners or family members. The list is as follows, with some examples taken from real court cases:

1) Homicide 

(2) Assault – Both simple assault and aggravated assault are viewed as domestic violence. When someone sets out or causes bodily harm, with or without a weapon, they may face assault charges.

(3) Terroristic threats – Placing a person in imminent fear of death that seems credible to the victim could be seen as an act of domestic violence.

(4) Kidnapping 

(5) Criminal restraint - Holding someone “hostage” in what resembles involuntary servitude is just one example of criminal restraints.  This, too, is a form of domestic violence.

(6) False imprisonment – A victim may claim domestic violence if they are unlawfully restrained and denied their liberty. However, parents may assert a defense for a minor child if the sole purpose was to take control of their child.

(7) Sexual assault – For most, the term sexual assault is self-explanatory and involves penetration of some type.  Rape fits into this category and yes, it applies to forced marital relations. And, like other alleged acts of domestic violence, it is not gender specific.

(8) Criminal sexual contact - The difference between criminal sexual contact and sexual assault is that contact does not include penetration. It is a considered an act of domestic violence to touch a victim’s breasts or genitals without their permission.

(9) Lewdness – One of the indicators of lewdness is that the victim is alarmed or affronted by the other person’s behavior. For example, a couple are out on a date and one of the individuals decides to expose his or her intimate parts. This could be an act of domestic violence – even if there is no sexual contact.

(10) Criminal mischief – Tampering with or damaging someone’s property represents a form of domestic violence as it relates to criminal mischief.  For example, disconnecting a vehicle component so a car is inoperable may be criminal mischief.

(11) Burglary - Burglary involves entering a building with the intent of committing a theft, assault or some type of fraud. Victims who show proof their premises were burglarized may be entitled to protection under the New Jersey domestic violence laws.

(12) Criminal trespass – Both criminal trespass and burglary involve entering premises without permission of the owner. However, criminal trespass charges don’t mean the accused has committed some other type of crime as well. Refusing to leave the premises is an additional issue when it comes to domestic violence.

(13) Harassment – The most often claimed act of domestic violence is harassment. Meanwhile, it is also the most difficult one when it comes to convincing the court to issue a restraining order. One example includes divorcing couples who make repetitive calls or send numerous texts regarding child visitation.  Judges must differentiate between everyday disagreements and harassment.

(14) Stalking – Someone who uses any means to follow or monitor a victim may face stalking charges. A court recently found a husband guilty of stalking even though it was his father who put the GPS tracker on his daughter-in-law’s car.

(15) Criminal coercion – Victims may claim criminal coercion if someone attempts to make them perform an act of some kind, or stops them from doing something with threats. One example is concerns that the revelation of personal information could destroy the victim’s reputation.

(16) Robbery – The threat of physical violence and theft fall under the legal definition of domestic violence. Financial exploitation of an elderly parent involving physical abuse could fall in this category.

(17) Contempt of a domestic violence order – Failing to comply with a previously entered domestic violence restraining order may count as a new act of domestic violence.

(18) Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury to a person protected under the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991.”

(19) Cyber-harassment – This is the latest addition to the laws involving domestic violence. For example, using the internet to distribute nude photos of a former boyfriend or girlfriend could constitute an act of domestic violence.

What It All Means

The New Jersey State Police compiled critical data regarding statewide domestic violence calls in 2016.  During that year, the most reported offenses came in at just about the same volume. Although harassment complaints were slightly larger, assault charges were a close second.

Remarkably, of the 27,256 harassment offenses, only 2,949 resulted in arrest. Meanwhile, of 27,222 calls alleging assault, over 13K individuals wound up in handcuffs.

New Jersey law enforcement officials take domestic violence seriously. The next part in this series features an interview with a police detective who explains how law enforcement officials handle complaints involving domestic violence allegations.

The key is prevention and protection. Domestic violence Is not race, gender or income specific. By the same token, there’s no doubt that false complaints exist.

Restraining orders are considered an avenue of protection. While it’s not as difficult to obtain a temporary order of protection, several factors prove critical when it comes to securing a final restraining order (FRO).

In the meantime, anyone who fears they are a victim of domestic violence should not hesitate to dial 911 for immediate assistance. The life you save may be your own.

Stephanie Faughnan is a professional journalist with extensive experience writing about legal topics. Contact her directly with any questions regarding this article or the series at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.