Speaker Carl Heastie and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol today announced the passage of a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at providing crime victims with the services and support they need to overcome trauma and seek justice.
"Crimes can have long lasting consequences on the victims, their families and communities," said Speaker Heastie. "While we cannot prevent individuals from committing crimes, now more than ever, we are dedicated to ensuring that all those affected by crime have access to all the resources available to rebuild their lives."
"Crime victims suffer at the hands of their assailants and often continue to suffer from physical, mental and emotional trauma after the crime was committed," said Assemblymember Lentol. "It is vital that we provide a support system that will prevent more obstacles from getting in the way of what is often a long and painful recovery process. This package of legislation will help ease victims' burden and aid in rehabilitation."
Crime Victim Assistance
Today's legislative package includes measures to ensure crime victims have access to support, services and treatment. The Office of Victim Services (OVS) provides compensation to innocent victims of crime, as well as funding direct services to crime victims and advocates for the rights of all innocent victims of crime. Many of today's bills will aid OVS in improving the care they provide.
The package includes a measure to ensure families of victims are not excluded from receiving OVS services by establishing that domestic partners of homicide victims would be eligible for compensation from the Crime Victims Board for actual out-of-pocket losses and counseling expenses. (A.2566, Glick).
"Marital status does not always accurately illustrate the significance of a relationship, nor does it affect the emotional and financial impacts a crime has on a victim's loved ones, including domestic partners," said Assemblymember Deborah Glick. "This legislation allows a domestic partner to have the same rights as a spouse to seek support when their partner is a victim of homicide."
Legislation passed today would give courts the discretion to direct that part or all of criminal fines or civil penalties imposed under certain antitrust laws be paid to OVS (A.4054, Englebright).
Assemblymember Steve Englebright said, "The Office of Victim Services is crucial to ensuring victims have access to the services and support they need. Directing antitrust fines and penalties to the Office of Victim Services will provide them with much needed revenue to help crime victims recover."
Another bill included in today's package would expand the eligibility of "child victims" for certain OVS awards, which will increase the reimbursements and services from OVS that these victims are entitled to (A.7051, Burke).
Assemblymember Pat Burke said, "The Assembly Majority recognizes that all victims deserve the right to seek justice in their own time. This legislation ensures victims have access to vital services and support they need to heal from horrible trauma."
Not all crime victims suffer physical injury, but the effects of these crimes can have long lasting and serious consequences. One of today's measures will ensure that victims of unlawful surveillance offenses have the same access to reimbursement for certain crime-related expenses from OVS as those that suffer physical harm (A.7079, McMahon).
"Even crimes with no physical injury have long lasting mental and emotional affects," said Assemblymember Karen McMahon. "My bill ensures that victims of unlawful surveillance have the same access to support as victims who have suffered physical harm."
No victim should be afraid to reach out to police or emergency assistance for help. One of the measures included in the package would establish the right of a tenant to seek help without fear of losing their housing as a result of landlord actions or local nuisance laws (A.2665-A, Lavine). Local nuisance laws can be triggered if police or emergency services provide aid or are called to a property multiple times. This legislation seeks to prevent victims from being evicted from their homes for seeking emergency assistance.
"It is unjust to subject a crime victim to further trauma after reaching out for help," said Assemblymember Charles Lavine. "Measures in this package will ensure that crime victims have access to housing and support services that are critical to their recovery."
Earlier this session the Assembly passed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act which would allow judges to sentence survivors of domestic violence to an alternative sentence of imprisonment, including community-based alternative to incarceration programs. The bill would also provide domestic violence survivors currently in prison the ability to apply for resentencing, granting relief to incarcerated individuals who pose no threat to public safety.
Too often, victims of sexual exploitation are charged with crimes like loitering or prostitution. Included in this package is legislation that would ensure victims of sex trafficking would not be required to provide samples to be included in the state criminal DNA identification index when they are charged with these other crimes (A.459-A, Paulin).
Assemblymember Amy Paulin said, "Human trafficking victims are too often treated like criminals instead of the victims they are. It is essential that we protect these individuals from further persecution under the law."
Criminal Sexual Assault
The Assembly also passed a measure to more broadly define the state's rape statutes. Under current law, oral and anal sex are not considered rape, but are separately defined as criminal sexual acts. This legislation would remove the penetration requirement from the rape statutes and would include vaginal sexual contact, oral sexual contact and anal sexual contact in the definition of rape (A.794-B, Simotas).
"The importance of calling rape by its name cannot be overstated. By defining these horrific violations as 'criminal sexual acts,' our current law negates the experiences of survivors and fails to validate their trauma," Assemblymember Aravella Simotas said. "This common sense legislation will correct this injustice and answer the call of survivors to ensure that what any person would recognize as rape is unequivocally called rape by the law."