NJ Attorney General Issues Statewide Standard Enhancements to Ensure Respect, Support Services, and Best Law Enforcement Practices for Sexual Assault Victims

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today took important steps to ensure that victims of sexual assault continue to receive the services and respect they deserve and that their cases are handled in accordance with best practices by law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
 
The Standards establish 14 protocols that prioritize the needs and concerns of victims and seek to continue and expand upon current practices to ensure that victims receive respectful treatment and appropriate services.  The Standards update prior editions of such standards by addressing recent changes in law and policy, advances in evidence-based practices, and current realities impacting victims and affected populations.  The Standards also provide for more victim feedback and greater accountability with regard to services.  The Standards were formulated collaboratively in a lengthy process involving a working group consisting of prosecutors, healthcare professionals, service providers, victim advocates, the Courts, and others.
 
Simultaneously, Attorney General Grewal issued a statewide law enforcement directive to ensure implementation of the enhanced standards and improve protocols and oversight for sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.  In an effort to better track and evaluate these cases, Attorney General Directive 2018-5 establishes new reporting requirements and provides for the gathering and evaluation of data on Sexual Assault Response Team activations, sexual assault investigations and prosecutions, disposition of cases, and factors used in determining case dispositions.  It also requires each county prosecutor’s office to develop and implement procedures and protocols requiring law enforcement agencies to report sexual assault incidents and complaints within 24 hours.  Under this directive, victims are provided the opportunity to meet with an assistant prosecutor in person to explain the basis when a prosecution will not go forward.
 
“While much has been done through the years to make law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and other service providers more responsive to the needs of sexual assault victims, there is always room for re-examination and improvement,” said Attorney General Grewal.  “The directive and standards issued today are the result of outstanding collaboration among law enforcement, the service community, and advocates for sexual assault survivors.  Moreover, these documents provide for increased input from victims and further evaluation of these issues going forward. With these actions, we ensure that New Jersey remains at the forefront of nationwide best practices and standards in our efforts to stamp out sexual violence.”
 
“Prosecutors in this State have long made sex crimes a priority in their offices, and that attentiveness has resulted in practices that are reflected in what we are already doing.  However, we need to do everything in our power to deliver the services that sexual assault victims need and the justice that they deserve,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Our message to these survivors is, we hear you, we respect you, and we care about what happens to you.  With the steps we are announcing today, we are rededicating ourselves as members of law enforcement and service providers to being as sensitive and as effective as we can be on your behalf.”
 
“For two years, NJCASA has had the honor of working with a multidisciplinary team of professionals on the revision of the ‘AG Standards,’” said Patricia Teffenhart, Executive Director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  “Attorney General Grewal supported that work by issuing these revised guidelines and outlining new measures for prosecutors to improve communication with victims of sexual violence. These revised Attorney General Standards address gaps in policy and procedure and seek to ensure all survivors of sexual violence in New Jersey have access to appropriate crisis services. For victims seeking services in the aftermath of a sexual assault, access to a timely, trauma-informed response can lay a solid foundation for pathways to healing and justice. We will continue to work with our colleagues across disciplines to monitor implementation of the new guidelines and accompanying directives and remain committed to identifying other opportunities to work together to create a safer, more equitable New Jersey.”
 
“While the County Prosecutors of New Jersey, our offices, local law enforcement agencies and our SANE/SART Teams have always been especially aware of the challenges facing sexual assault victims and the need to have highly trained personnel assigned to these units, we welcome and support these updates,” said Sussex County Prosecutor Francis A. Koch, President of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey.  “In fact, many of the new updates and protocols are the incorporation of procedures and services that many of the 21 County Prosecutor’s Offices already implement.  These revisions are a way to ensure a rededication to the victims of sexual assault across the state and to standardized services from all of the providing agencies.  We further concur that New Jersey has always been and with these updates will be the model for the nation in our efforts address the needs of sexual assault victims and to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable.  The County Prosecutors of New Jersey look forward to instilling and promoting these protocols to better serve our respective counties.”
 
“Now, more than ever, in this age of ‘Me too’ and ‘Times Up,’ we need law enforcement to be aware of and responsive to the fears and stigma survivors of sexual violence experience,” said Acting Director Anna D. Martinez of the Department of Children and Families’ Division on Women. “These new protocols are survivor-centered, empowering people to access the services they want and need to heal from their trauma.”
 
“The new Standards are the conclusion of a lengthy collaboration in which each discipline involved – the Forensic Nursing Community, Law Enforcement, Prosecutors’ Offices, and Advocates – made the victim of sexual assault their primary focus,”  said Lynne Rybicki, SART and FNE Coordinator for the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.  “During our numerous meetings, each word of the Standards was reviewed, dissected and updated by ideas, suggestions and best practices from each of the agencies represented in this respectful and collaborative process.   We are all proud of the final product.”
 
“As a member of the multidisciplinary committee charged with revising the Attorney General Standards, we collaborated to update the Standards to reflect a victim-centered, evidence-based practice for all disciplines,” said Eileen Caraker, SART and FNE Coordinator for the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office.  “As a representative of the 21 Sexual Assault Response Teams/Forensic Nurse Coordinators, our focus is to provide compassionate, comprehensive, evidence-based services to all sexual assault victims.  This provides the opportunity for all patients to make informed decisions about their care, which may include medical forensic examination, advocacy and law enforcement.”
 
DIRECTIVE

Attorney General Directive 2018-5 takes the following actions, among others, on behalf of sexual assault victims:
 
* Requires all law enforcement agencies to report sexual assault incidents and complaints to county prosecutors within 24 hours of notice of the incident or receipt of the complaint.

  • Ensures full compliance with the statutory mandate that in every sexual assault prosecution, the victim of the sexual assault shall be provided an opportunity to consult with the prosecuting authority prior to the conclusion of any plea negotiations.

  • In cases where prosecutors decline to bring charges, the directive requires that they offer the victim the opportunity to meet to discuss the reasons for not pursuing charges.

  • Directs that all final dispositions of sexual assault investigations shall be reviewed and approved by a supervisor within the “special victims unit” or juvenile unit in the county prosecutor’s office prior to completion of the case.

  • The directive requires the investigating agency to advise the victim of additional resources and options, as outlined in the Standards, including the availability of Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act Orders, protective court orders victims can obtain against their perpetrators.

  • Requires the county prosecutors to report detailed information to the Attorney General – twice during the first year of the directive – on SART activations and the handling and disposition of sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.

  • Requires the county prosecutors to conduct outreach to educate the public about the available resources and options for sexual assault victims.

  • Directs the 21 county prosecutors’ offices to comply with and ensure implementation of the Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, Third Edition.
     
    Attorney General Directive 2018-5 is posted at www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/ag-directive-2018-5.pdf
     
    STANDARDS

The Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, Third Edition, focus on delivering services to victims in a timely and non-judgmental manner. This victim-centered approach includes:
 
* ensuring the victim’s safety is the top priority;
* respecting the integrity, choices, and autonomy of each victim;
* protecting the victim’s privacy and confidential information;
* identifying and responding to the obstacles some victims may face when seeking help; and
* recognizing the importance of victim feedback in improving responses to sexual assault.
 
The specific enhancements and updates from prior editions of the standards include the following, among others:
 
Increased Accountability

  • Victim Surveys and a SART Member Survey were developed to gather constructive feedback on how to improve the State’s SART services.   

  • The Statewide SART Advisory Board will be reconvened and meet quarterly to review the effectiveness of the services provided by the 21 County SART programs, monitor the operation of these programs, and make recommendations to the Attorney General for any needed changes in the standards, regulations, or State policy concerning the provision of victim services.

  • The 21 County SART Advisory Boards have greater duties to ensure proper oversight of the SART and ensure any issues raised by victims, team members, stakeholders, or the State are dealt with according to the Standards.

  • Complaint procedures were developed to address any complaints, issues, or unusual occurrences concerning a County SART program.  These procedures are designed to ensure best practices are followed by both the Team and the individual members and to ensure serious matters are dealt with appropriately.    
    Updated and Improved Practices

  • Addresses changes in New Jersey law and recent directives issued by Attorney General.

  • Updates language, e.g., Rape Care Advocates are now referred to as Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates or CSVAs; Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANES) are now referred to as Forensic Nurse Examiners (FNEs); and language has been made gender neutral, with he/she generally replaced by “they.”

  • The procedures and the roles of the SART members are more clearly laid out to ensure a victim, no matter where the assault occurred, receives the same level of services and access to information. For example: 

    • A CSVA shall be offered regardless of whether a victim reports to law enforcement.
    • A sample script for SART activations was developed to ensure that the services of the SART are properly communicated to victims, no matter where they present (e.g., hospital, police department).
  • Consent surrounding the sexual assault medical forensic examination is more fully discussed.

  • Updates Standards regarding child victims and vulnerable populations to better reflect current realities.

    • More clearly lays out the procedures for responding to child victims. 
    • More clearly lays out vulnerable populations a County should consider when responding to sexual assault incidents. 
  • Certain aspects of the SART program are better clarified or highlighted.
                
    The Standards are available at www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases18/AG-SART-Standards.pdf

TRAINING

The Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police have been extremely proactive in training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, advocates, and forensic nurses in the area of sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.  All police officers in New Jersey are required to take blocks of sexual assault training as part of their basic training.  However, DCJ and the State Police have developed extensive supplemental training.  In 2019 all officers in the state will be required to take the course Police Response: Sexual Assault Investigations, which will be offered through the Attorney General’s online training platform, the CLEAR Institute.  This three-hour course was created by the DCJ Prosecutors Supervision & Training Bureau in collaboration with subject-matter experts to meet a legislative mandate.  Since 2015, DCJ has held an annual two-day Domestic Violence/Sex Assault Symposium attended by up to 200 prosecutors, advocates, forensic nurses, and detectives.  In June 2018 the State Police Victim Services Unit offered a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Violence Training that was attended by approximately 300 prosecutors, officers, FNE/SAFE coordinators, advocates, and court personnel.  In addition, as part of advanced training in the NJSP Domestic and Sexual Violence Series, the State Police have created and offer seven additional specialized courses.
 
For more information on New Jersey’s efforts to support sexual assault victims, visit: https://www.nj.gov/oag/end-sexual-assault
 
Attorney General Grewal thanks the following agencies and organizations that were members of the Core Working Group that guided development of the Standards and Directive 2018-5:
 
* Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ)

  • Department of Law and Public Safety, DCJ, State Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy

  • Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of State Police, Victim Services Unit

  • Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of State Police, Office of Forensic Sciences

  • Department of Children and Families, Division on Women

  • The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA)

  • The County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey

  • The New Jersey Victim Witness-Coordinators’ Association

  • The New Jersey Board of Nursing

  • The New Jersey Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) Coordinators’ Association

  • Center for Family Services, Services Empowering Rights of Victims

  • Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC)