On May 9, a new law goes into effect in the Garden State, expanding access to restraining orders for a larger number of sexual assault victims.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images

The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015, signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in November, is considered a huge victory by victims' advocates.

Survivors of sexual assault can now seek protective orders against their offenders without filing charges, regardless of the relationship.

"Taking into context the fact that most survivors know their perpetrators, and that sexual assault is the most underreported crime, there are a large number of survivors that would benefit from the protections of one of these civil protective orders but may not wish to engage in a criminal proceeding," Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told Townsquare Media.

An estimated 300 survivors per year will pursue the protective orders, Teffenhart said.

But even the process of acquiring a restraining order may carry too much anguish for a survivor, she noted. The applicant and perpetrator must appear in court at the same time before a decision is made on whether a final restraining order is warranted.

With this law, New Jersey joins more than two dozen other states that offer similar protections.

A protective order would prohibit offenders from entering a victim's residence, school, place of employment and other frequently-visited locations. The perpetrator can also be blocked from any communication with the victim.

"We have seen how effective restraining orders can be in protecting domestic violence victims," state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, said when the bill she sponsored was signed into law. "This law provides survivors with the same, life-saving protective orders."

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