Date: January 22, 2024Attorney: Lynne Strober and Xena A. Balcazar

Blog written by Lynne Strober, Esq. – Co. Chair of the Matrimonial and Family Law Practice Group at Mandelbaum Barrett PC and Xena Balcazar, Esq., Associate in the Department at Mandelbaum Barrett PC.

Addressing Restraining Order Gaps

Have you ever encountered a situation where someone fell victim to stalking or cyber-harassment, but due to the lack of a statutorily defined relationship (family member, paramour, domestic partner, etc..), their right to obtain a restraining order was non-existent? A recently passed piece of legislation in New Jersey, the Victims Assistance and Survivor Protection Act (VASPA), could authorize protective orders for certain victimized persons, regardless of familial or dating relationships.

Scope of VASPA: Redefining Protections

Effective January 1, 2024, VASPA (N.J.S.A. 2C-14-14) supersedes the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 (SASPA), extending protections beyond the limitations of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (PDVA) (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17). VASPA now provides safeguards to individuals victimized by acts of stalking or cyber-harassment, addressing the gap left by SASPA and PDVA due to the absence of a specified relationship between the victim and the alleged actor.

Historical Context: Understanding SASPA’s Limitations

To comprehend this legislative shift, a brief overview of SASPA is essential. Enacted to complement PDVA, SASPA focused on extending protection to survivors of sexual violence who did not qualify for domestic violence restraining orders. However, its scope was limited to survivors of sexual offenses, creating a void for those victimized by stalking or cyber-harassment.

VASPA: Bridging the Legal Deficiency

VASPA was enacted to bridge this deficiency, offering legal recourse to victims irrespective of their relationship with the alleged actor. Whether the harm was caused by a stranger, neighbor, or acquaintance, victims can now petition for a protective order, reshaping the landscape of domestic violence actions based on jurisdiction alone.

Challenges and Considerations: Striking a Balance

The enactment of VASPA raises crucial questions regarding the balance between protecting victims and maintaining a practical approach to prevent misuse. As we navigate this new legal terrain, challenges in verifying the authenticity of claims become apparent. The rise of social media introduces complexity to stalking and cyber-harassment claims, adding a layer to the assessment of threats.

Potential Surge in Court Filings: Impact on the Judiciary

Additionally, the potential surge in court filings, coupled with existing judicial vacancies, poses a risk of backlog, potentially affecting the timely resolution of cases. The judiciary, already grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic, may face increased pressure in addressing these emerging challenges.

To view the statute, click here.