The problem with the current Sexual Assault Protection Order is that it must be reissued every two years. All other protection orders, including domestic violence and stalking, allow for judicial discretion in the length of time a protection order is in place.

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This year, the Legislature has the chance to make a simple, common sense change in state law to help victims of sexual assault

A Sexual Assault Protection Order (SAPO) provides an important civil protection for victims of sexual assault. They are particularly helpful when criminal charges are not, or have not yet been filed. A SAPO requires the perpetrator to stay away from the victim and places that the victim frequents, and to have no further direct or indirect contact with the victim.

Passage of HB 2033 and its companion in the Senate, SB 6151, propose modification to the duration and burden of proof on reissuance elements of the statute. These changes will bring SAPOs in line with other Washington protection orders, affording the same protections to sexual assault victims as those granted to victims of domestic violence, stalking or harassment.

A significant problem with the current order is that it must be reissued every two years. All other protection orders in Washington, including domestic violence, anti-harassment and stalking, allow for judicial discretion in the length of time a protection order is in place. However, SAPOs are unique and there is a two-year cap on the orders. This requires a victim of sexual assault to return to court every two year if he or she needs continued protection, placing an unnecessary burden on victims and discouraging them from using a law that is designed to offer protection.

The following story of a sexual assault victim illustrates both the challenges in getting this protection in place and the necessity of a SAPO.

The teenager — we won’t name her to protect her identity — was a freshman in high school. She was raped by a classmate who was in the same grade and in many of her classes. After the assault, she was unable to eat, sleep or focus in class. She continued to see her attacker at school on a daily basis and was frightened of being anywhere near him.

Her parents decided to file for a Sexual Assault Protection Order on her behalf which would prohibit the attacker from contacting her. This “no contact” was particularly important as criminal charges were not filed by the prosecutor, meaning the SAPO provided the only protection.

In order to obtain a SAPO, the teen filed a petition with very detailed, graphic and personal information about the assault; two weeks later she went to court for a full hearing. Her attacker was also present at the five-hour hearing. During the hearing, she testified and was cross-examined about the assault and her behavior before and after the attack.

The SAPO was granted; however, the judge could only grant it for a maximum of two years under the current law. She will have to go back to court at least one more time during her high school career and participate in this process again in order to get the SAPO renewed. It’s a daunting prospect for her, but the SAPO does provide protection and some comfort; at this point she believes she will file again.

In this situation, the proposed bill amendments would have given the court discretion to grant the SAPO for a longer duration (e.g. for four years while the victim and the attacker attend high school) providing some peace of mind for her and her family.

HB 2033 and its Senate companion, SB 6151, will assist victims of sexual assault across the state to secure the protection they deserve.

In the 2015 session, this legislation passed the House with broad bipartisan support and passed the Senate Law and Justice Committee, but did not make it to the governor’s desk. In 2016, with strong support from Democrats and Republicans we believe this bill will pass, making our justice system more responsive to victims of sexual assault.