October 14th, 2022

Recent Changes to the Legal Definition of Domestic Violence in Washington


Arguments between family members and intimate partners are common. However, these disagreements sometimes escalate to the point of violence, leading to devastating consequences. In some cases, an individual may seek protection orders to shield them from their partner or relative’s destructive actions, including domestic violence, sexual assault, or a similarly serious matter. Whether you are a victim of domestic violence or you have been wrongfully accused of perpetrating domestic violence, it’s essential to recognize that Washington state has recently enacted big changes to domestic violence and protection order laws. The purpose of these changes is to simplify the process of obtaining a domestic violence protection order and broaden the number of citizens who can seek safety. Here’s a brief overview of these revisions and their potential impact on your situation.

Understanding the Reason Behind These New Changes

Before the changes to the legal definition of domestic violence took effect, Chapter 7.105 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) defined this act as, “Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of physical harm, bodily injury or assault; or stalking of one intimate partner/household member by another intimate partner/household member.” However, legislators recognized that domestic violence assumes many forms, so they sought to expand this definition to more accurately reflect the complexity, subtlety, and variety of actions that constitute domestic violence. Additionally, Washington legislators aimed to address the impact of teen dating violence, as this issue has been increasing in recent years.

Expanding the Definition of Domestic Violence in Washington

The amended legal definition of domestic violence now includes the additional clauses, “nonconsensual sexual conduct or nonconsensual sexual penetration; coercive control; unlawful harassment,” to further clarify what constitutes domestic violence. The inclusion of coercive control and unlawful harassment acknowledges the power and control an abuser holds over the victim. In some cases, power and control—without physical harm—still cause considerable damage to the victim. Below are some of the newly defined terms to help Washington residents better understand actions that may be considered domestic violence.

Consent

Including the term “non-consensual” means that legislators must also define “consent.” Essentially, consent means “words or conduct indicating freely given agreement.” There are several situations in which consent is not given, such as when an individual revokes their consent or does not consent voluntarily. Those who are underage or intoxicated cannot legally give their consent. If the perpetrator has authority or control over the care or custody of the individual (i.e., someone who is incarcerated or detained), any sexual act or display of coercive control will be non-consensual. This is crucially important when minors or children are involved in cases or when one spouse claims a serious assault has taken place.

Coercive Control

Under the latest legal definition, coercive control refers to any pattern of behavior designed to inflict physical, emotional, or psychological harm, preventing the victim from living freely. However, certain protective actions made in good faith that aim to keep the survivor or their child safe do not qualify as coercive control. Coercive control assumes many forms, such as efforts to intimidate, control, or threaten someone (including online harassment); making someone dependent on you; confining or isolating someone; depriving an individual of basic necessities or financially exploiting them; monitoring or controlling their movement, communication, or behavior; and subjecting someone to psychological aggression. Under this definition, the perpetrator may not physically harm the victim, but the psychological impact on the victim can be traumatizing and severe.

How These Changes Affect Protection Orders

Under these recently enacted changes, victims may now file a unified petition to seek protection orders for the following reasons: domestic violence, sexual assault, anti-harassment, stalking, and vulnerable adults. Instead of spending time and energy locating the correct petition for the situation, individuals can access one form and indicate whether they are pursuing more than one type of protection order. This change aims to remove barriers for those seeking protection orders, streamlining the process and empowering victims to obtain the relief they seek.

Compassionate Legal Guidance to Help You Move Forward

If your partner, ex-spouse, roommate, or relative has been harassing or acting coercively toward you, you are far from alone. Unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence do not recognize their legal options, and they are often scared to take steps to stop the abusive behavior because they fear how the perpetrator will respond. First, it’s essential to recognize that you have a way out. Enlisting the support of a trusted and compassionate family law attorney is the best way to help you identify the most strategic path forward. Your attorney and legal team will empower you to take the necessary steps to create a brighter and more stable future.

If you need help seeking protection orders in the Seattle area, call the dedicated legal team at The Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to get started.

Associate Attorney at Hemmat Law Group | (206) 745-3549 | Website | + posts

Andrew Linden is an Associate Attorney at Hemmat Law Group. Mr. Linden graduated from Knox College in 2016 and received his J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2019. He is a member of the Oregon and Washington State Bar.