NJ attorney general: Prosecutors will hold community forums this fall to address sexual violence on campus

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced today that all 21 county prosecutors in the state will hold forums at colleges this fall to address the issue of sexual violence on campus.

He made the announcement Thursday at the New Jersey Conference on Campus Sexual Violence that was hosted by the Rutgers University Center on Violence Against Women and Children.

Grewal said law enforcement officials must stand with students to end campus sexual violence, particularly in light of proposed policy changes by the federal government under Title IX that could discourage student survivors from reporting sexual violence and prevent schools from taking administrative action against students who are credibly accused of sexual assaults. Grewal is part of a coalition of 19 attorney generals opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal.

“We will steadfastly defend the right of students to receive an education free of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination,” Grewal said. “We cannot stand by while the federal government proposes sweeping changes that would undermine that right and discourage students who are survivors of sexual violence from coming forward.  The message that I want these survivors to hear is this: there are prosecutors across the state and investigators working with them who dedicate their lives to prosecuting cases like yours and pursuing justice for survivors like you.  Law enforcement will be bringing that message to campuses across New Jersey this fall in partnership with our colleges.”

The college and university fall forums are part of the 21-county, 21st century community policing project Grewal launched a year ago to promote stronger police and community relations by bringing law enforcement representatives and community members together in every county a minimum four times each year for town hall meetings, discussions, and other events..

In November, the attorney general’s office also updated statewide standards for providing services to victims of sexual assault.  The standards, which had not been revised in 15 years, focus on delivering services to victims in a timely and non-judgmental manner. This victim-centered approach includes: ensuring the victim’s safety is the top priority; respecting the integrity, choices, and autonomy of each victim; and recognizing the importance of victim feedback in improving responses to sexual assault.

Grewal also issued a directive last year to establish new reporting measures to better track and evaluate sexual assault cases.  The directive requires that victims be given the opportunity to meet with an assistant prosecutor if a case does not go forward so that the prosecutor can explain the decision not to prosecute.

The adoption of a more “victim-centered approach” to sexual assault cases is part of a broader reevaluation of the state’s approach to victim services, officials said.  Last month, Grewal announced a review of New Jersey’s victim programs and services.  His office recruited victim advocate Elizabeth Ruebman to conduct the review and offer recommendations for improvements.

Last September, Grewal also formed a task force with full criminal investigatory powers to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey, as well as any efforts by individuals or institutions to cover up such abuse. The task force investigation is ongoing.