What is a sexual assault restraining order?
Similar to a domestic violence restraining order, a sexual assault restraining order (also known as a sexual assault protective order) is a court order that can protect you from an abuser if you are the victim of actual or attempted nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, stalking, or cyber-harassment.1 If you do not qualify for a domestic violence restraining order because you do not have the required relationship to the abuser, then you may qualify for a sexual assault restraining order.
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-14(a)(1)
What are the legal definitions of nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, stalking, and cyber-harassment?
To qualify for a sexual assault restraining order, you must be the victim of actual or attempted nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, stalking, or cyber-harassment by someone who is not a current or former intimate partner. These terms are defined as follows:
- Sexual contact is an intentional touching, either directly or through clothing, of your or the abuser’s sexual organs, genital area, anal area, inner thigh, groin, buttock or breast for the purpose of degrading or humiliating you or sexually arousing or sexually gratifying the abuser.
- Sexual penetration is vaginal intercourse, oral sex (cunnilingus or fellatio), or anal intercourse between you and the abuser or insertion of the hand, finger or object into the anus or vagina either by the abuser or due to the abuser’s instruction.
- Lewdness means exposing one’s genitals for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the abuser or of any other person.
- Stalking means committing acts that cause you to be reasonably afraid for your safety or the safety of others, or cause you significant mental suffering or distress, including:
o staying close to you, either physically or visually, two or more times;
o following, monitoring, watching, threatening, or communicating to you or about you either directly or indirectly by any method;
o interfering with your property;
o harassing you two or more times; or
o threatening you two or more times, either directly or indirectly, in writing or verbally or by any other method.
- Cyber-harassment means behavior in online communications through any electronic device or a social networking with the intent to harass you, including:
o threatening injury or physical harm to you or your property;
o sending, posting, commenting, requesting, suggesting, or proposing any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to you or about you with the intent of emotionally harming you or placing you in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm; or
o threatening to commit any crime against you or your property.1
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-14(a)(1)
What types of sexual assault restraining orders are there? How long do they last?
In New Jersey, there are two types of sexual assault restraining orders, temporary and final.
Temporary ex parte restraining orders
When you file a petition for a sexual assault restraining order, you can ask for a temporary ex parte restraining order to be issued immediately. A judge can grant you a temporary order if the judge decides it is necessary to protect your safety and well-being.1 The judge can issue this order without the abuser having prior notice or being present at the hearing. The hearing for the final order will be scheduled within ten days of filing your petition.2 Your temporary order, if you have one, will remain in effect until a judge of the Superior Court issues a decision on your petition either granting a final order or dismissing your temporary order.3
Final sexual assault restraining orders
After a hearing in which you both have an opportunity to tell your side of the story through testimony, evidence, and witnesses, a judge can grant you a final restraining order. The judge can only grant it after the judge finds that the abuser committed or attempted to commit an act of nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration„ lewdness, stalking, or cyber-harassment against you or the abuser admits to the behavior.4 The final sexual assault restraining order remains in effect until the judge says otherwise. In other words, there is no set end date to a sexual assault restraining order.5
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-15(a)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-16(a)
3 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-15(d)
4 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-16(e)
5 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-16(i)
What protections can I get in a sexual assault restraining order?
A temporary restraining order can order the abuser not to:
- commit or attempt to commit any future act of nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, stalking, or cyber-harassment against you;
- have any contact with you or other people named in the order;
- enter your or your family or household members’ residence, property, school, or place of employment;
- come near any specific place identified in the order that you or your family or household members frequently go to;
- personally, or through another person, start any communication that is likely to cause annoyance or alarm with you, your family members, or their employers, employees, or fellow workers, an employee or volunteer of a sexual assault response organization that is providing services to you, or others with whom communication would be likely to cause annoyance or alarm to you. The type of communication could include personal, written, or telephone contact; or contact through electronic devices;
- follow you or threaten to harm, stalk, or follow you; and
- commit or attempt to commit an act of harassment against you.1
A final restraining order must include the protections in numbers 1 and 2 above.2 A final restraining order can include the protections in numbers 3 through 8 above, if the judge decides each is necessary.3
Note: For either a temporary or final order, the judge can also order any other relief that s/he decides is appropriate.4
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-15(e)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-16(e)
3 N.J. Stat. § 2C:14-16(f)
4 N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:14-15(e)(6); 2C:14-16(f)(5)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.