A New Jersey woman was honored in the nation's capital today by the Victims' Rights Caucus for her work on behalf of sexual assault victims in New Jersey.
At a ceremony on Capitol Hill, Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) presented constituent Nicole Norberto with the "Eva Murillo Unsung Hero Award."
Nicole is a survivor of a sexual assault that occurred in 2003 in Jackson Township, New Jersey. After the arrest of her attacker, Nicole, only 15 years old at the time, sought prosecution of the man who assaulted her and appropriate restraints to protect herself from further harassment and abuse. She was advised by a court clerk that she could not request a restraining order from the judge because she was not in a "dating relationship" with her attacker.
"After her assault, Nicole made a decision to take a stand and that is the reason I nominated her for this Award; she put her own safety and comfort at risk so that future victims would not be saddled with the same inequities in the law she faced as a victim of sexual assault, for not being in a "dating relationship,'" Smith said.
Prior to Nicole's advocacy, victims of sexual assault who fell outside of the domestic violence statute were not eligible for permanent restraining orders. In her case, without a civil restraining order statute and no authority for the judge to issue a continuance of the no-contact order, Nicole was left with no legal recourse for protection unless her assailant were to break the law again.
"The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that approximately two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim and 38 percent are a friend or acquaintance," Smith said. "Accordingly, at the time of Nicole's assault, New Jersey law did not provide a remedy for almost 40 percent of sexual assault victims."
In New Jersey, "Nicole's Law" was passed to close this loophole by extending the right of permanent protection to all victims of sexual abuse who would have otherwise fallen outside remedial actions.
In addition to the individual protection provided by Nicole's Law, the state law also enables victims to have greater confidence in the administration of justice.
"The more support and confidence victims have in the ability of our justice system to hold to account those who commit sex crimes, the more likely victims will come forward and to help ensure that more criminals are properly prosecuted--leading to fewer victims in the future," Smith said.
Smith has introduced the federal version of Nicole's Law--H.R. 1678--which would encourage all states to adopt similar statutes and provide permanent protections for victims of crime across the country. H.R. 1678 enumerates several new restrictions a judge can order to ensure that the burden to obtain protection is no longer placed on the victim.
The Victims' Rights Caucus, of which Smith is a member, has three main goals:
To represent crime victims in the United States through the bipartisan introduction of legislation that reflects their interests, rights, and needs.
To provide an ongoing forum for dialogue between Congress and national victim assistance organizations to enhance mutual education, legislative advocacy and initiatives that promote justice for all, including crime victims.
To seek opportunities for public education initiatives to help the nation understand the impact of crime on victims, and to encourage their involvement in crime prevention, victim assistance, and community safety.
The Caucus annually honors outstanding individuals, agencies and collaborative initiatives whose efforts directly benefit victims and survivors of crime, and promote individual and public safety.