Restraining orders are an unfortunate necessity for individuals with abusive or mentally unstable
partners. Over the years, harassment, stalking and other forms of domestic violence have become more prevalent due to internet technologies such as social media. In addition to violating the victim, these communication methods make it easier for abusers to go after the victim's friends and family members. In these cases, third party members were left completely vulnerable because they could not seek protection under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
The inability for victims to include third parties, especially children, on a restraining order is an understandable concern. Many of them struggle with guilt and fear over inadvertently placing their loved ones in harm's way. There is, however, an exception to this rule under the criminal coercion statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-5). Criminal coercion is defined as unlawfully coercing another individual through actions such as threatening to inflict bodily harm, ruin the person's professional reputation, and bringing about collective actions such as strikes or boycotts. For domestic violence victims, criminal coercion often takes place in the form of threats against their current partners, friends and relatives.
Although it's not stated in laws, victims who are coerced into a course of action via threats to third party members such as their children, may ask for those parties to be included on a final restraining
order. However, it must be clear that the threats are being made in order to coerce a specific code of conduct from the victim. This specific form of protection came about as the result of J.L. v. A.C., in which the defendant was criminally coerced into meeting with her abusive partner. At the meeting, he beat the victim and threatened to harm her child if she refused to meet with him again. In this case, the plaintiff made threats against third party members with the explicit intent coercing the victim into doing something that she didn't want to do.
Of course, had the plaintiff threatened the child with no intent to coerce a certain action from the victim, the defendant would not have been able to seek protection for the child under her restraining order. The limited nature of this ruling, as well as the lack of protection for third parties under the state's domestic violence laws has long been criticized by victim advocacy groups. Regardless of these inadequacies, victims should be counseled on all their available legal options, including filing criminal charges against their abusers. It's also important to know that a restraining order can be an effective measure against a partner who refuses to respect your personal and physical boundaries. In addition, a restraining order establishes a legal record of his or her actions, which is important should you need to file criminal charges in the future. For more information on restraining orders, and other legal actions for protecting yourself and your loved ones, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca.