New Jersey authorities on Friday announced a new department under the state’s chief law enforcement official aimed at helping crime victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
With a Prominent Rape Survivor Advocate at its head, officials say the Violence Intervention and Victim Assistance Division, 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 that victims of violent crime are more likely to engage in violence themselves.
“Ensuring that we have a structured, statewide approach to critical victim services is not only the right thing to do for people who have experienced pain and loss, but it is also a proven strategy for making our communities safer,” Platkin said.
The new department will house four main offices, including the Violence Intervention and Prevention Office and dedicated offices to compensate and assist victims of crimes at various stages of the criminal justice process.
Its creation is part of a broader effort by Governor Phil Murphy’s administration to address longstanding issues regarding how law enforcement treat victims of sexual violence. Murphy and Platkin, who was then his chief adviser, faced criticism in the governor’s first term over how the campaign and administration handled a rape complaint filed by a former employee, which led to a legislative inquiry and public hearings about sexual harassment in the government.
State officials are also seeking to improve how New Jersey assists crime victims. An investigation by NJ Advance Media in 2018 revealed that the amount paid to victims in New Jersey has fallen dramatically over a decade, and many eligible victims were never told they owed money.
Patricia Tivenhart, former president of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, will serve as the director of the new division. Tiffhart also previously served as a member of the Working Group on Harassment, Sexual Assault, and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics.
Stephen Campos, currently director of community resources at the Hudson Partnership CMO, will head the Office of Violence Prevention and Control.
“It is critical that this work be led by two people who have direct experience working with trauma survivors, victims of crime, and in intervening in violence, particularly given their collective focus on youth and domestic and sexual violence,” Platkin said.
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