Advocates for sexual-assault victims note that repeated petitions for civil protection orders force them to relive the trauma. Legislation in Olympia would give judges the option of making the orders permanent.
OLYMPIA — Victims of sexual assault could apply for permanent restraining orders instead of repeatedly returning to the courthouse to ask a judge for help, under legislation that is gaining wide approval in the Legislature.
Currently, sexual-assault protection orders have expiration dates of up to two years. They are the only protection orders that come with a time limit, unlike protection orders for domestic-violence victims, for instance.
It’s a loophole advocates have been wanting to close for years, hoping not to exacerbate victims’ already painful experiences.
“I’ve had cases where judges said they wished they had the authority to file a protection order for a longer period,” said Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, coordinating attorney for the YWCA’s Sexual Violence Legal Services.
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Senate Bill 6151, and House Bill 2033, would give judges the ability to make these civil orders permanent. (The legislation does not apply to orders issued in criminal cases.) The legislation also defines what judges can take into account when granting renewal.
Staff from the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center have discussed these issues with legislators since 2014.
“Victims have repeatedly shared with us how difficult obtaining an order is,” said Andrea Piper-Wentland, executive of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. “They must relive the trauma of going back into the court, the experience of seeing their perpetrator, as well as making accommodations they need in their life for taking time off work, school.”
Anyone can file for a civil protection order, regardless of whether the incident was reported to police. No matter how the order is filed, if the perpetrator violates the order, he or she is arrested and could face jail time.
A petitioner must give detailed, graphic, personal information to the court about the assault, according to resource-center attorney Laura Jones. She also said they’re questioned about their behavior before, during and after the attack.
Instead of going through that, explained Mukhopadhyay, victims sometimes choose to move away, leave school or quit their job.
The executive director of the sexual-assault resource center, Mary Ellen Stone, has been working at the center for 30 years. “That’s not theoretical, that’s every day,” she said. “We’re seeing the problems and how we need to fix them.” The center’s 24-hour hotline receives about 2,200 calls a year.
For renewal, the legislation specifies a judge should consider, for example, if the perpetrator has committed more violent or criminal acts, if the order was violated, if the perpetrator attempted suicide or had substance-abuse problems, and if either party relocated.
The legislation explicitly states that the passage of time and compliance alone are not enough for a judge to reject a victim’s application for renewal of a protection order.
“There’s not a uniform way that judges handle this, at least in King County,” said Jones, the attorney. “The bill would give a little bit more predictability to the process for sure.”
Of the 420 civil protection orders tracked in King County Superior Court between 2010 and 2015, 86 percent were granted the full two-year protection, according to sexual-assault resource center.
Jones said these statistics are representative of any given year in King County.
The legislation has passed the Senate and awaits a vote on the House floor.