Home>Highlight>Weinberg, Vainieri Huttle bills would bolster sexual assault victims’ rights

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Weinberg, Vainieri Huttle bills would bolster sexual assault victims’ rights

Bill package increases oversight, mandates training for prosecutors

By Nikita Biryukov, October 23 2020 11:24 am

Two Bergen county lawmakers introduced a series of bills meant to bolster sexual assault victims’ rights Friday.

“Survivors of sexual assault who are brave enough to seek redress through the legal system need to know that prosecutors and police will respect their rights, that trained sexual violence liaison officers will be there to listen, and that they will receive the support services they need,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said.

The nine-bill package includes measures that would allow victims to review police reports regarding their assaults before they are filed, require prosecutors to notify victims about charges against their assaulters and mandate the Attorney General audit sexual assault cases and report the statistical data about such cases to lawmakers, among a slew of other measures.

Weinberg and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) said the legislative package was spurred by sexual assault allegations leveled by state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan.

Brennan accused former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017, when he was in charge of Muslim and Latino outreach for Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign, for which she would later volunteer.

Her allegations launched months of legislative hearings into Alvarez’s hiring, though prosecutors in Hudson County, where the assault allegedly occurred, and Middlesex County declined to file charges against Alvarez.

The bill package got her stamp of approval Friday.

“Restorative justice, prosecution reform, law enforcement reform, improved rights and resources for survivors — this legislation holds systems and people accountable,” she said. “They heard, they believed, and they acted. I am proud to work with the Legislature to make New Jersey a better place for survivors.”

The bill package also requires prosecutors receive triennial trainings on how to handle sexual assault cases and establishes sexual violence liaison officers who would serve as resident experts on such cases and could instruct police on their handling.

“This package of bills addresses a number of opportunities for growth, including increased training, more trauma-informed processes for survivors who engage with the criminal legal system, and strengthened oversight and accountability for our colleagues in law enforcement,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

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