N.J. launches new office to aid crime victims, rape survivors- VB BLOG

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New Jersey authorities on Friday announced a new division under the state’s top law enforcement official aimed at helping the victims of crime and survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

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Placing a leading advocate for rape survivors at its helm, officials say the Division of Violence Intervention and Victim Assistance, or VIVA, is “designed to prevent future violence by better addressing the needs of crime victims and trauma survivors.”

In a statement announcing the move, acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin cited a 2021 National Institute of Justice report that found the victims of violent crime are more likely to engage in violent acts themselves.

“Ensuring that we have a systematic, statewide approach for critical victim services is not only the right thing to do for people who have suffered pain and loss, but it is also a proven strategy for making our communities safer,” Platkin said.

The new division will include four main offices, including the Office of Violence Intervention and Prevention and offices dedicated to compensating and assisting crime victims at various stages of the criminal justice process.

Its creation is part of a broader effort by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to address longstanding issues with how law enforcement treats the victims of sexual violence. Murphy and Platkin, then his chief counsel, faced criticism in the governor’s first term over how the campaign and administration handled a rape complaint filed by a former staffer, which led to a legislative inquiry and public hearings on sexual harassment in government.

State officials are also seeking to improve how New Jersey assists crime victims. A 2018 NJ Advance Media investigation revealed the amount paid to victims in New Jersey dropped significantly over the course of decade and many eligible victims were never informed they were owed money.

Patricia Teffenhart, the former head of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, will serve as the new division’s director. Teffenhart also previously served as a member of the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics.

Steven Campos, currently a community resource director at Hudson Partnership CMO, will helm the Office of Violence Intervention and Prevention.

“It is critical that this work be led by two individuals with direct experience working with trauma survivors, crime victims, and in violence intervention, and particularly so given their collective focus on youth and domestic and sexual violence,” Platkin said.

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