New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced at an event on campus sexual violence on Thursday that his office was coordinating with all 21 county prosecutors in the state to hold a community forum on campus sexual assault in every county this coming fall.
The AG made the announcement while speaking at the “New Jersey Conference on Campus Sexual Violence,” hosted by the Rutgers Center on Violence Against Women and Children at the university’s Somerset campus. He said the effort will be part of the “21-21 community policing project” that he launched a year ago.
Events on college campuses in every county will address the issue of campus sexual violence and how law enforcement must partner with students in ending it, Grewal said.
“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,” Grewal said in his speech. “Law enforcement will be bringing that message to campuses across New Jersey this fall in partnership with our colleges.”
According to Grewal, the timing was right in light of proposed policy changes by the federal government under Title IX that he said could discourage student survivors from reporting sexual violence and limit schools from taking administrative action against students who are credibly accused of sexual assaults.
Grewal is one of the leaders of a coalition of 19 attorneys general opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal. He announced that opposition in January of this year with New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis.
“We will steadfastly defend the right of students to receive an education free of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination,” Grewal said when stating his opposition. “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 events on campus sexual violence will be part of the 21-County, 21st Century Community Policing Project—or “21/21 Project”—that was launched a year ago by Grewal to promote stronger police-community relations. Under the program, law enforcement and community stakeholders get together in every county for a minimum of four times each year for town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, and other events addressing vital issues.
Over the past year, Grewal’s office said the AG has announced other major initiatives to address sexual violence and assist survivors. Among them: In November 2018, the Attorney General’s Office updated statewide standards for providing services to victims of sexual assault. The “Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, Third Edition,” were the first revision in 15 years and focused on delivering services to victims in a timely and non-judgmental manner with the aid of “Sexual Assault Response Teams”—teams of confidential advocates, forensic nurse examiners, and law enforcement officers.
On the same day that the updated standards were released, Grewal issued a directive to establish new reporting measures to better track and evaluate sexual assault cases. It also requires victims be given the opportunity to meet with an assistant prosecutor if a case does not go forward so that the prosecutor can explain—in person—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, according to the AG’s office.
Last month, Grewal announced a top-to-bottom review of New Jersey’s victim programs and services. The review is underway.
And last September, the AG formed a task force headed by former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino 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.
Grewal’s latest effort to bring campus sexual assault and the myriad issues related to it to the forefront got the attention of Senate Higher Education Chair Sandra B. Cunningham, D-Passaic, on Thursday. In a statement she praised the AG and offered her support.
“I support Attorney General Grewal’s effort in promoting a community level conversation on nurturing the necessary partnerships needed to offer preventative services to our students and to ensure they have access to the resources they deserve when the unthinkable occurs,” Cunningham said. “I have always been a staunch supporter of survivors of sexual assault and have worked tirelessly to stem sexual assaults on our college campuses. I remain committed to helping our students keeping them safe.”