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Home Page > Family and Relationships > Domestic Violence > Domestic Violence: A Guide to the Legal Rights of Domestic Violence Victims in New Jersey

C. Safety Measures

 

Table of Contents

Planning ahead for an emergency

You may wish to develop a safety plan with the goal of reducing the risk to yourself and your children. Safety plans seek to reduce the immediate risks of physical violence and injury but also include strategies to maintain your freedom from the violence. Each plan will vary, depending on whether you are separated from the batterer, plan to leave, or decide to stay, as well as what resources are available to you. 

If you are still living with the abuser, some safety steps to consider taking to reduce the threat of physical violence to you and your children are the following: 

  • Try to plan how you will get out of the house safely in an emergency. Which door will you use? Can you climb out of windows? Is there a fire escape? Where will you go once you are out of the house? What if you can’t go there? 
  • Pack clothes for yourself and your children and a list of the addresses and telephone numbers of relatives and close friends who may be able to help you. Keep the suitcase in the home of a friend or neighbor, or hide it in your home where you can get to it easily. 
  • Have an extra set of keys to your home and car. Keep these hidden in your suitcase. 
  • Teach your children how to use the phone to reach the police or fire department. 
  • Collect and save evidence (such as names and addresses of witnesses, pictures of your injuries, police and medical reports). 
  • Develop a code word that you can use with your children or a friend so that they can call for help when you can’t. 
  • Take extra cash, savings books, checkbooks, credit cards, and any other special valuables. 
  • Take something comforting for the children, such as a   favorite toy or book. 
  • If it is at all possible, try to take legal documents such as identification, birth certificates, Social Security card, driver’s license, marriage certificate, your restraining order, passports and immigration documents, documentation of car ownership, medication, court papers, and other legal documents. Keep these where you can get to them easily and quickly. You may need these documents for a number of reasons, and replacing them can be time-consuming and, in some cases, costly. 
  • Call a domestic violence hotline number for help with this planning and other problems. 

If you are not living with your abuser, some safety steps to consider to reduce the threat of physical violence to you and your children are the following: 

  • After you get a restraining order, make copies of the order and take one to your local police for their files. You should give a copy to the following people: your children’s school, day care center, or baby-sitter; a neighbor or nearby relative; and someone where you live and work, such as a security guard. 
  • Keep a copy of your restraining order with you at all times. 
  • If you remain in the home, change the locks, get a security system, and put in bright or motion-sensitive lights outside. 
  • Get someone at work to screen your calls on the job if you can. 
  • Avoid stores, restaurants, banks, and other places that you used previously, where your partner may go looking for you. 
  • Take advantage of services offered by domestic violence service providers.

Strategies to stay safe and independent from the abuser might include how to maintain income, housing, health care, food, child care, and education for the children. 

You may wish to call a domestic violence service provider in your community discuss safety planning.

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Using hotlines

Hotlines are excellent resources. Most hotline telephones are staffed 24 hours a day. The staff is trained to deal with people in crisis. By discussing your problem with someone independent and unbiased, you may be able to see the solution to your problem more clearly. In any event, you will have a chance to talk through your problem and discuss some of your options so that you will be prepared for whatever steps you decide to take. Staff members can provide you with information and referrals. You can find a list of hotline numbers for the state and for your area in the appendix.

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Calling the police

When domestic violence occurs, you may want to call the police. For emergencies, call 911 or your local police. Tell the police dispatcher what has happened, and stress the emergent nature of your situation. Be sure to indicate whether anyone is injured or armed and, if so, where the weapons are located. Once the police arrive, ask to talk to the officers alone so that you can speak freely about what happened and what you would like done. 

You can ask the police to help you get a temporary restraining order (TRO) right away. It is hard to make decisions about your life and the lives of your children when you are living in fear. A TRO may be helpful because you will have some time to be free of fear, allowing you to think through your plans. 

You can apply for a restraining order in person between 9 a.m. and about 3 p.m. at the Superior Court, Family Division, in your county. Many courts stop taking domestic violence complaints at 3 p.m. This may vary, however, depending upon the county. Call ahead to your Family Court to find out what time they stop accepting complaints. You can also go to your town’s municipal court when it is open to get a TRO. The police can help you get a TRO through the municipal court at any hour and on weekends, holidays, and other times when the courts are closed. A police officer can help you get in touch with a municipal judge. 

The police will provide you with a victim notification form, written in English and Spanish, notifying you of your rights under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. They will explain the notice to you if you don’t understand it. The form will describe what help is available in connection with a restraining order. A restraining order can: 

  • Temporarily forbid your abuser from entering your home, even if it is not rented or titled in your name; 
  • Temporarily forbid your abuser from having any contact with you, your relatives, or anyone else you identify; 
  • Provide for the seizure of any weapons your abuser possesses; 
  • Allow you to use the family car, even if it is not in your name; 
  • Temporarily forbid your abuser from bothering you at work; 
  • Require that your abuser pay temporary child support or support for you; 
  • Grant you temporary custody of your children; 
  • Require that your abuser pay you back any money you spend for medical treatment or repairs because of his violence. 

There also are other things that the court may order. The court clerk or police will explain the procedure to you and help you fill out the papers for a TRO. More information on restraining orders.

You also have the right to file a criminal complaint against your abuser in addition to obtaining a restraining order. A police officer can tell you how to file a criminal complaint. 

You should know that, although the law requires the police to make an arrest in some situations, the police may not arrest the abuser in every situation. The law requires an officer to make an arrest when the victim shows signs of injury, when a weapon is involved, or when the abuser has violated the terms of a restraining order. The law gives an officer the choice about an arrest if the victim does not show signs of injury, but there is a good reason for the officer to believe an act of domestic violence has been committed. More information on filing a criminal complaint.

You might ask the police to help you call relatives or a local domestic violence shelter if they are not going to arrest the abuser and you do not feel safe staying in your home with him/her after the police leave. You can also ask the police for transportation to a safe place or to a court to get a restraining order. 

You may want to ask the officers for their names and badge numbers, and write this information down. This will show the police that you are serious. You may also need this information when you go to court, particularly if you need to call the police officers as your witnesses.

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Getting medical attention

Many people are understandably depressed and confused after being physically abused. Because they feel ashamed about what happened, or have been threatened, some people don’t seek medical help. However, it is important to see a doctor because injuries can be severe even though they don’t appear so. This is especially true of internal injuries. A pregnant woman should see her obstetrician immediately. 

Whether you choose to get care at an emergency room or from a private physician, the most important thing is that you receive treatment. Give the doctor a detailed description of what happened. Tell the doctor what parts of your body received the physical abuse. Be very specific about exactly where you were hit or hurt. Direct, strong hits to the head, stomach, or chest can create internal injuries. You may request that the doctor write down your injuries and insist that your visit remain confidential. You also have the right to speak with the doctor alone. 

If the doctor you see is not your personal physician, be sure to give him or her some medical history. Tell the doctor about any allergies you have. If the doctor prescribes medication, be sure that you understand what the medication is and what the side effects may be. If you are going to a hospital emergency room, you may want to ask a friend or relative to go with you for emotional support. Emergency rooms are usually hectic, and you may have to wait a long while before being examined. 

Ask about other services available in the hospital or in the community that may be of help to you. The hospital may have a nurse or social worker who works with domestic violence victims. Hospital personnel may also be able to refer you to a battered women’s program to get information about emergency shelters, counseling, and emotional support. You may be able to get a restraining order, with police assistance, at the hospital. 

If you have been sexually assaulted, you should get medical attention immediately, and take steps to preserve the evidence of the sexual assault. Many of the steps you should take to preserve evidence are likely to be difficult for you, but the evidence will be important in getting the abuser convicted if you decide that you want to press criminal charges against him/her. You may wish to call a friend or relative to be with you as you go through some difficult procedures. 

The following things will allow you to gather the most evidence after a sexual assault so that you can have the injuries treated and preserve evidence that will be helpful should you decide to file criminal charges. 

  • You must get medical attention as soon as you can, preferably at an emergency room, within 24 hours of the sexual assault. If at all possible, before seeking medical attention, you should not shower, bathe, wash, douche, change clothes, eat, drink, smoke, or urinate. Ask the treating physician to use a rape kit. You should not throw away the clothes you were wearing or any other item involved in the sexual assault. 
  • You may also ask to speak with a rape crisis counselor at the hospital. 

Hospital personnel may try to convince you to speak with the police right away. You do not have to do this. If you are pressured to make a police report, remind them that it is up to you to make this decision, when you are ready. Tell them that, at the moment, all you want to do is to preserve the evidence so that it will be available when and if you decide to press charges.

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Getting out—finding housing

Emergency housing—shelters. The only way some people can ensure their safety is by leaving home to stay with friends or relatives, or by staying in a safe house or domestic violence shelter. If you have children, you may wish to take them with you when you leave. All counties offer free emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence. A list of agencies offering shelter services appears later in this publication. Most shelters keep their locations confidential so that residents will be safe from pursuit by their abusers. Often, arrangements can be made with shelter staff to pick you up from a safe place (the police station, for example) and transport you to the nearest shelter. Many shelters are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Shelter staff conduct counseling sessions and provide other support services for residents. Some people stay in shelters for one night; others may stay longer. The shelter usually provides a group living situation where people share cooking and cleaning chores. Playgroups and other supervised activities are often available for children. Arrangements with local school systems permit children to enroll in school for short periods of time so that they will not miss classes during the shelter stay. If your local shelter is full, you may be referred to another shelter outside of your county. If you do not want to stay at a shelter, you might consider the possibility of staying with family members or friends. 

Remember to try to safeguard knowledge of your location if you fear your abuser will follow you and try to hurt you or the people with whom you are staying. If you cannot think of someone who will help, you might try contacting a church or civic leader. They can sometimes arrange for emergency accommodations. 

Even if you do not stay in the shelter, ask the staff about their support services. A domestic violence service worker or a peer support group can help you make difficult and important decisions. 

Permanent housing. Once at the shelter or other emergency housing, you will probably begin to think about obtaining permanent housing. You may decide to try to stay in your own home by obtaining a restraining order against your abuser from the Family Court under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

On the other hand, you may decide to look for a new place to live if you feel that you would not be safe in your home. Your new home might be in the same city or community, or in an entirely new city or state. You should know that if you want to leave the state with the children you have with the abuser, you should first get the other parent's permission or an order from the court. Without that, the abuser could report the children missing, claim that you kidnapped them, and try to have you arrested for interfering with his/her right to see the children. There are ways to protect yourself against your abuser's claims and to protect yourself from getting arrested for taking your children to another state. (See Relocation/removing the children from New Jersey.) If you are moving within the state of New Jersey, you do not need permission. 

You may have trouble finding well-maintained, affordable housing. The classified ad section of your local newspaper provides some information, but you should also ask friends if they know of any vacancies in the area. You can call the rental offices of large apartment complexes to ask about vacancies or to be put on a waiting list. Avoid the use of finders’ services such as home locators or home seekers where you are charged a fee for a list of places. Such services often are not helpful. 

If you receive welfare, your caseworker may be able to supply you with a list of local landlords. Your county welfare office may have a housing unit that can help you find housing. You may also be eligible for temporary rental assistance, which will help you to pay your rent. (See Public Assistance.) 

If you find a place and are offered a written lease to sign, be sure to read the lease carefully. If possible, have the lease reviewed by a lawyer before you sign it so that all of the legal language is explained to you. Never sign a document you did not read or do not understand. 

You may be eligible for a federally subsidized Section 8 house or apartment. Getting a Section 8 grant would mean that you could rent a place suitable for yourself and your children and the federal government would pay a portion of your rent. Call or write to your local rental assistance office for information. If you cannot find a local Public Housing Authority, call the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs for help at 609-292-6392. 

It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent an apartment to you because of the source of your income, such as welfare, a Section 8 grant, or child support. (Note: This law does not apply to owner-occupied, two-unit dwellings.) Also, it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because you have children. (Note: This law does not apply to senior citizen housing.)

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Keeping your location confidential

The New Jersey Address Confidentiality Program. If you are a victim of domestic violence and move to a new address that you wish to conceal from your batterer, the New Jersey Address Confidentiality Program can help you. You may apply to use an address through the state in order to keep your actual address private. 

The program allows victims of domestic violence to apply for a designated address that only the Division on Women and its employees will know. When the state receives mail for you, the mail will be forwarded to you at your actual address. The program allows you to use the designated address when applying for any type of public assistance, such as welfare or unemployment. You can also request that any state or local agencies through which you already receive assistance use the designated address. The agency must accept the designated address unless it can show the program that your actual address is necessary and required by law. 

To qualify for the Address Confidentiality Program, you must give a sworn, written statement that you are a victim of domestic violence and that you fear further violent acts from your batterer. You must have reported domestic violence to a law enforcement agency or a court. There is no requirement that you must have reported the incident immediately after it occurred. You may still report the incident when you decide to apply for the program. You do not need a restraining order to participate in the program. 

Your statement must provide the work and home address(es) and telephone number(s) you wish to keep confidential. You must also give the name of a contact person with whom the program can leave a message for you. 

When you participate in the program, you cannot reveal your actual address to others and must use your designated address for all purposes. 

To get an application, contact the Address Confidentiality Program, toll-free, at 1-877-218-9133 or write to: 

Address Confidentiality Program
P.O. Box 207
Trenton, NJ 08602-0207 

Once you have become a program participant, you are automatically enrolled for four years. After four years, you can reapply for participation, or you can cancel your participation at any time. 

Give your designated address to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, the welfare office, or any other government agencies. 

Other things to do to keep your location secret: 

  • All agencies you contact, such as the welfare office, should be informed that you wish your records to be kept confidential and that no information is to be released without your written consent. 
  • If you transfer your child’s school records, you will need the cooperation of both schools in keeping the name and address of the new school confidential. 
  • When you register to vote, show the copy of your restraining order to the clerk and ask that your address be kept confidential. 
  • If you are initiating a divorce through a lawyer, tell your lawyer not to publish your address in the divorce proceedings or release your address to your spouse or his/her attorney. 
  • You may file court papers requesting to change your name and/or your Social Security number if you feel that it is necessary for your safety.

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Copyright © 2010 Legal Services of New Jersey

This information last reviewed 11/2/11

 

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