Life changes dramatically for someone who is the victim of domestic violence. A domestic violence victim may feel isolated, alone, and scared.
Help through the courts
Victims of domestic violence may get help 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 14 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 where someone communicates with you at inconvenient hours or uses rude and profane language. A person may harass you by 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 communication must annoy or alarm you.
A person may also be guilty of harassment if that person contacts you in an offensive way. Offensive contact includes acts that are annoying, insulting, or embarrassing to you, such as hitting, kicking, pushing, and touching. This type of act may be considered to be harassment whether or not you have been injured. Threatening to do any of these acts may also be considered harassment.
If someone does things that are meant to scare or seriously annoy you, and these actions are repeated, 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 hits a victim. An abuser may harm a victim or try to harm a victim. The harm may be done with or without a deadly weapon. If an abuser threatens to harm you, this may also be considered an assault. For example, an abuser may knowingly have threatened you with a gun, whether or not it was loaded, and may not have cared that you could have been hurt. In any of these cases, an abuser may be guilty of assault.
In cases where you have actually been harmed, you must feel a sensation of pain for it to be an assault. It does not have to be very painful—it can be as simple as the sting felt when someone slaps you.
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 the abuser threatens 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 only to you. It cannot 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 is keeping 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 woman 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, 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, that person’s actions may be considered to be burglary. If a person secretly hides out 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 force or coercion (such as bullying or threatening violence) to have sexual contact with another person may be guilty of criminal sexual contact. Without freely given consent to the sexual activity, the contact may be considered to be by 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 does not matter 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 the act of an abuser confining a victim as a hostage or for ransom. Kidnapping may also be defined as when an abuser keeps 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, stares at another person for a long time, 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 any of these actions on purpose or 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 you.
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 needed permission or did not have permission to be there.
Some places will not allow people to enter. There might be 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. If a person ignores restrictions such as signs, locked doors, fences, or a 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 in through windows to watch another person in a home and the person being watched did not reasonably expect to be watched, the person peeking may also be guilty of criminal trespass.
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. Homicide will not be part of a final restraining order hearing.
If you need help with a domestic violence situation, you may contact LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 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, LSNJ also has a series of self-help videos about restraining orders available on YouTube. You may find them by searching for LSNJ and restraining order.
This article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.