Legal protections would be available to more victims of sexual assault under legislation sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain, which passed the state Senate on Wednesday.
The plan allows courts to make the protection orders permanent, instead of the current maximum of two years and reduces burdens to renew existing orders.
“Current legal protections for victims of sexual assault do not reach as many people as they should,” said Fain, R-Auburn. “Protection orders are incredibly effective, especially in the absence of other legal charges, but obtaining them can be difficult. Reducing barriers to critical protections helps keeps more people safe.”
Sexual assault protection orders are available for victims of sexual assault who do not qualify for a domestic violence protection order. Once an order is in place the respondent is prohibited from contact with the victim and from certain places along with other relief determined by the court.
“This bill means that victims of sexual assault will have the same protection as other victims,” from Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “It is a significant step forward and I greatly appreciate Senator Fain’s strong leadership.”
Protection orders are obtained through civil courts with testimony from the victim, but are limited to a maximum of two years. This can force a victim to relive the abuse in court every two years to keep protections in place. The legislation, which passed by a 43-6 margin, allows them to be permanent and brings sexual assault protection orders in-line with other orders including for domestic violence, stalking and harassment.
Violation of a protection order results in criminal charges against the attacker.
In 2015, state programs served approximately 13,000 victims of sexual assault, with roughly 5,000 in King County.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, which has approved a similar measure, and the two chambers are expected to work toward a final plan in the weeks ahead.