It’s hard to imagine lawmakers agreeing on anything these days, but one bill in particular was passed unanimously by the New Jersey legislature this summer. The bill, S-1517, addresses stalking, tightening up previous laws that left dangerous loopholes for victims. The law was signed by Governor Phil Murphy in July 2023 and will take effect on January 1st, 2024. Read on to learn more about this anti-stalking bill in New Jersey.
About the Law
The purpose of S-1517 is to make it easier for victims of stalking to get restraining orders against the alleged perpetrator, regardless of whether a relationship exists or if a criminal conviction has been made. Previously, a stalking victim could only get a restraining order if there was a prior relationship between the parties, or if there had already been a criminal conviction in the case.
This closes what many called the ‘stranger stalking’ loophole. New Jersey resident Michele Albano’s daughter was stalked for months by a man with whom she had no relationship. The situation was a catalyst for the advocacy that resulted in this bill.
The bill also updates the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 by renaming it the Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act and expanding the list of acts that qualify a victim to receive a restraining order. Now, stalking and cyber-harassment are included.
“While most stalkers tend to be current or former partners, in nearly one-fifth of cases the perpetrator is a stranger. Stalking can go on for months or even years, forcing people to live in fear with no legal recourse until the situation escalates,” said Senator Linda Greenstein in a statement. “This law will empower victims to take legal action and obtain a restraining order, providing them with a crucial tool to proactively protect themselves before a stalking situation escalates.”
Supporters say that this bill closes a significant loophole for victims of stalking. No criminal conviction is required for a restraining order to be issued, nor is a relationship between parties required. Victims will have better access to protective measures against alleged perpetrators regardless of the underlying relationship between the parties, and more actions will be considered unlawful.
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Critics argued that the expanded criteria for a restraining order would strain an already overburdened court system. Others warned that others would abuse the system by getting restraining orders for inappropriate situations such as a neighborhood dispute or a landlord/tenant situation.
In the News
Recently, harassment has been in the news in Hoboken. Several Hoboken residents were involved in a harassment situation based on their participation in a 2022 bond referendum. In February 2022, a $251 million bond referendum was proposed to expand Hoboken High School. While it was defeated, six supporters received threatening letters and packages at their homes. Some of these supporters were public servants including Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla and Council President Emily Jabbour. Others were private citizens, including Amardeep Singh Bhalla and Kim Gerlach.
A resolution was reached in the case in September 2023. Hoboken resident Matt Majer sent packages anonymously to all six victims’ homes, containing racially charged, threatening, sexually suggestive, and/or highly offensive messages. He pled guilty to harassment of Kim Gerlach and allocated to committing the same acts to Mayor Bhalla, Council President Emily Jabbour, and Nancy Pincus. Mr. Majer’s guilty plea was sufficient for Phil Cohen and Amardeep Singh Bhalla, the other two victims, to forego the allocution in their cases.
Majer pled guilty to one count of harassment and was entered into a 12-month conditional dismissal program.
In a statement from some of the victims, Amardeep Singh Bhalla, the brother of Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla, shared the following:
“Hoboken is an inclusive, open, loving, and free community. In order to stamp out intolerance in our community it is important for the public to grasp its scope. Mr. Majer plead guilty to harassment and admitted to harassing Mayor Bhalla, Council President Emily Jabbour, Kim Gerlach, and Nancy Pincus. We are responding as a means of education for the public, and to send a clear message that threatening and harassing behavior is not acceptable and will be addressed in accordance with the law.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, there are resources available to help.
- Hudson County Domestic Violence Agency — Women Rising Inc. — (201) 333-5700
- Office for Victims of Crime
- New Jersey Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office