TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that all 21 County Prosecutors in New Jersey will hold community forums this fall on local college campuses to address the issue of campus sexual violence.
Attorney General Grewal made the announcement today at the Rutgers at Somerset campus while speaking at the “New Jersey Conference on Campus Sexual Violence” hosted by the Rutgers Center on Violence Against Women and Children.
The Attorney General declared that law enforcement must stand with students in the fight to end campus sexual violence, particularly in light of proposed policy changes by the federal government under Title IX that could discourage student survivors from reporting sexual violence and prevent schools from taking administrative action against students who are credibly accused of sexual assaults. AG Grewal is one of the leaders of a coalition of 19 Attorneys General opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal. He announced that opposition in January with New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis.
“We will steadfastly defend the right of students to receive an education free of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We cannot stand by while the federal government proposes sweeping changes that would undermine that right and discourage students who are survivors of sexual violence from coming forward. The message that I want these survivors to hear is this: there are prosecutors across the state and investigators working with them who dedicate their lives to prosecuting cases like yours and pursuing justice for survivors like you. Law enforcement will be bringing that message to campuses across New Jersey this fall in partnership with our colleges.”
The events on campus sexual violence will be part of the 21-County, 21st Century Community Policing Project – or “21/21 Project” – that was launched one year ago by Attorney General Grewal to promote stronger police-community relations by bringing law enforcement and community stakeholders together in every county a minimum four times each year for town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, and other events addressing vital issues.
Over the past year, Attorney General Grewal has announced other major initiatives to address sexual violence and to protect and assist survivors.
In November 2018, the Attorney General’s Office updated statewide standards for providing services to victims of sexual assault. The standards, which had not been revised in 15 years, were enhanced to ensure that New Jersey remains at the forefront of nationwide best practices.
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;
- 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 new standards build upon the availability of Sexual Assault Response Teams – teams of confidential advocates, forensic nurse examiners, and law enforcement officers.
On the same day that the updated standards were released, Attorney General Grewal issued a directive to establish new reporting measures to better track and evaluate sexual assault cases. The directive further requires that victims be given the opportunity to meet with an assistant prosecutor if a case does not go forward so that the prosecutor can explain—in person—the decision not to prosecute.
The adoption of a more victim-centered approach to sexual assault cases is part of a broader reevaluation of the State’s approach to victim services. Last month, Attorney General Grewal announced a top-to-bottom review of New Jersey’s victim programs and services. The Attorney General’s Office recruited victim advocate Elizabeth E. Ruebman to conduct that review and offer recommendations for improvements. That review is underway.
In September 2018, Attorney General Grewal formed a task force, with full criminal investigatory powers, to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey, as well as any efforts by individuals or institutions to cover up such abuse. He appointed former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino to head the task force and oversee a team of detectives and prosecutors from across the state’s County Prosecutor’s Offices and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), reporting to DCJ Director Veronica Allende. The task force investigation is ongoing.