Under New Jersey’s travel advisory, many victims of domestic violence have been stuck at home with their abusers during COVID-19. Others face the possibility of abusers knowing their whereabouts at any given time.
“With the pandemic, victims of domestic violence often became sitting prey,” said Domestic Violence Section Chief Sonja Furlow, of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.
While court was out of session and the Camden County Hall of Justice closed as a result of COVID, victims were unable to obtain a Final Restraining Order (FRO). But the courts are operating again and the Camden County Family Division now offers victims a new way to stay safe: apply directly for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) by calling the family division or obtain an FRO through a virtual hearing.
Furlow said a TRO is typically issued when an act of domestic violence is committed, and the victim feels his or her health, welfare or safety is in jeopardy. Prior to COVID, if there were no criminal charges involved, victims could go to the hall of justice to apply for a TRO, and if the victim provided probable cause, a judge would approve the application. If criminal charges were involved, victims could go to their local police, who would assist them by calling a judge and having a TRO issued.
From there, the temporary order would remain in effect until the FRO hearing, which usually takes place within 10 days of a temporary order’s issuance. But when the pandemic hit and court hearings were on hold, victims were left in limbo.
But the hall of justice reopened on Aug. 3, so victims can once again file in person. For those who don’t feel comfortable making their way to a courthouse, there’s a new option: Victims can call the Family Division and speak to one of its team leaders by phone. The leader will listen and put the victim in touch with a judge, who will listen to the facts of the case to make a determination if a temporary order should be issued. Victims can still seek an order with the help of their local police department.
Given the current restrictions on indoor gatherings, the FRO hearing will be held virtually. All parties will be called, emailed and notified of the day and time the session will be held via Zoom.
According to Furlow, during COVID closures, victims who had a TRO had their orders converted to an Indefinite Temporary Restraining Order as they awaited trial. The virtual setting enables victims to be heard and to get their final orders. But should the defendant not appear at the virtual hearing, the order will remain indefinite until he or she can be contacted.
Furlow said it’s important for victims of domestic violence to know that despite the pandemic, there are resources, and the prosecutor’s office has compiled a list of organizations who currently provide aid and support to victims.
“It’s important that victims of domestic violence know there is still help out here,” Furlow said.
Victims of domestic violence can apply directly for a TRO by visiting the Hall of Justice Family Division at 101 S. 5th Street in Camden, or by calling the Camden County Family Division at (856) 650-9100, ext. 59088. If you are a victim looking for help after business hours, you can call your local police department or leave a message with the family division, which will return your call as soon as possible.
To learn more, visit the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office online at https://camdencountypros.org.