OLYMPIA – Washington state could create a significantly more accessible and effective civil protection order system with the passage of legislation sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) and Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland).

SB 5297 and its companion HB 1320 would streamline, update and improve access to the courts for civil protection orders.

“Protection orders are intended to be available quickly when someone needs protection from harm,” said Dhingra. “The pandemic has highlighted long-standing barriers to access when victims have to choose between going to court to get a protection order and tending to their job, their child, their safety.”

Dhingra said the state has been removing those barriers for months by using online filing of petitions, electronic service of protection orders, and video and telephone hearings. Now she plans to write those temporary changes into statute and modernize statewide best practices for using them.

“This bill will help those seeking protection orders, especially those most marginalized and vulnerable, by making the process less complicated and eliminating unnecessary barriers.”

According to the CDC, one-in-three women and one-in-six men will experience some form of domestic abuse, sexual violence or stalking in their lifetime. A July 2019 study found higher rates of gun ownership associated with higher rates of domestic violence (DV). The pandemic has further exposed barriers faced by victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and harassment. For example, where firearm sales are up 85 percent during the pandemic, so are increased incidents of domestic violence and DV homicides.

“Washington state has led the nation in adopting strong legal protections to prevent and respond to abuse, violence, harassment, stalking, neglect or other threatening behavior,” said Goodman. “This legislation provides much-needed updates to help ensure an efficient and effective civil protection order process. And that means safer communities.”

Washington state has enacted six different types of civil protection orders: domestic violence protection orders, vulnerable adult protection orders, antiharassment protection orders, sexual assault protection orders, stalking protection orders, and extreme risk protection orders. These civil protection orders increase safety for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of vulnerable adults, unlawful harassment, and threats of gun violence, by offering immediate protection apart from the criminal legal system. Further, the surrender of firearms in civil protection orders is critical to public health and safety, Dhingra and Goodman said.

But because these six different civil protection orders were adopted at separate times and in different manners, discrepancies among the laws make it challenging for petitioners, respondents, advocates, service providers, attorneys, judicial officers and other stakeholders to navigate the protection order process.

“Standardizing provisions where there is no need for a different approach and consolidating the statutes into a single chapter will provide uniformity, significantly reduce obstacles, and make the law more understandable for everyone,” said Goodman. “Survivors are in the best position to know their safety needs. The civil protection order system allows them to be able to seek these crucial protections without having to rely on the criminal legal system.”

Supporting views:

“Our organization responds to thousands of victims each year who turn to us for services and for help navigating the legal system, often for help in understanding how they can get a civil protection order as soon as possible. Sexual assault and harassment disproportionately impact the most marginalized and vulnerable, especially women and girls of color. We see these inequities daily and know this bill will improve access to justice. It will allow for survivors to apply for protection orders online and for the parties to attend hearings by phone or video. And it will simplify and update our state’s civil protection orders laws in other ways that will make such a difference for those who turn to the courts for protection.” – Mary Ellen Stone, executive director, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.

“Protection orders are a key part of what works to reduce domestic violence. Research by the University of Washington and others has found protection orders reduce domestic violence in a community, especially critical with the surge of domestic violence during the pandemic. Unfortunately, obtaining a protection order is too often an arduous, emotional and risky task. Many need interpreters, and all are taking enormous risks to stand up to their abusers. In 2020, the King County Prosecutor’s Office provided protection order advocacy services for over 6,000 petitioners, 90 percent of whom did not have attorneys. This bill provides important improvements in access to justice for victims and simplifies and modernizes protection orders for victims, respondents, judges and law enforcement.”   – David Martin, chair, Domestic Violence Unit, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Fulbright Specialist in Gender Violence Response

“The civil protection order is often the only viable option for a victim. When they do not want to report to police, or the case isn’t being prosecuted, or their employer, school, family, community or support system is not prioritizing the victim’s trauma and safety, it is crucial to have a protection order process that is efficient and accessible. We have witnessed the devastating consequences of systems and communities failing victims. Protection orders can be a lifeline in these situations and legislating technology-based improvements to the protection order process to make it more accessible is a common-sense solution.” – Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, executive director of the Sexual Violence Law Center