December 21st, 2022

What is Considered Domestic Violence in the State of Washington?

Intimate and familial relationships are inherently complex. Emotions can run high, and tensions can escalate, leading to unhealthy behavior patterns. In some cases, an intimate partner or former spouse may become overly controlling, manipulative, or even physically abusive. Survivors of domestic violence often feel isolated, overwhelmed, and fearful, and they may not know how to seek help when they need it most. If someone is abusing you or limiting your contact with other people, it’s essential to recognize that you are not alone. Domestic violence takes many forms, and the Washington state legislature has recently expanded the legal definition of domestic violence to include behaviors like coercive control, unlawful harassment, and nonconsensual sexual conduct. Reaching out to a compassionate and trusted Seattle family law attorney is the best way to ensure you obtain the legal protections you need to regain control of your life. Below is a brief overview of what behaviors constitute domestic violence in Washington state and the steps you can take to enjoy a brighter and more stable future.

How Washington State Defines Domestic Violence

As of July 2022, Washington state recognizes a newly expanded legal definition of domestic violence. The Revised Code of Washington 7.105 defines domestic violence as “Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; nonconsensual sexual conduct or nonconsensual sexual penetration; coercive control; unlawful harassment; or stalking of one intimate partner by another intimate partner” or of “one family or household member by another family or household member.” Let’s take a closer look at some of these actions and how Washington state identifies examples of domestic violence.

Physical Abuse

Physical harm occurs when an abuser inflicts pain or offensively touches another person. Grabbing, pushing, shoving, hitting, scratching, or other aggressive behaviors may be considered physical abuse, and these actions may result in severe injuries to the victim. Unwanted or nonconsensual touching or physical contact can also constitute physical abuse.

Emotional or Verbal Abuse

Survivors of domestic violence may also suffer emotional and verbal abuse from an intimate partner or household member. An abuser may use insults or make verbal threats to manipulate or intimidate the victim. Emotional abuse can erode your self-esteem and make you doubt your sense of reality. Over time, a manipulative abuser can make you dependent on them, limiting your contact with others and deteriorating your self-worth.

Sexual Abuse

Unwanted or nonconsensual sexual activities are considered sexual abuse in Washington State. According to RCW 7.105, sexual abuse refers to “any form of nonconsensual sexual conduct including, but not limited to, unwanted or inappropriate touching, rape, molestation, indecent liberties, sexual coercion, sexually explicit photographing or recording, voyeurism, indecent exposure, and sexual harassment.” Under this definition, even unwanted touching may constitute sexual abuse.

Coercive Control

Coercive control was recently added to the expanded definition of domestic violence. The Revised Code of Washington defines coercive control as “a pattern of behavior that is used to cause another to suffer physical, emotional, or psychological harm, and in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.” An abuser may attempt to control a victim’s actions by taking away their financial autonomy, restricting their mobility, interfering with their ability to work outside the home, monitoring their communications, isolating them from close friends or relatives, or otherwise impeding their personal autonomy.

Stalking and Harassment

Stalking and harassment can be considered forms of domestic violence under Washington state law. An abuser may follow the victim, show up unexpectedly at their place of work, monitor their online activities, or send repeated threats to intimidate the victim and cause them to suffer fear or emotional distress. These types of behaviors are usually targeted and ongoing.

How a Trusted and Caring Seattle Attorney Can Help You

If you are experiencing ongoing harassment or abuse, it’s essential to understand that you have options. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, frightened, and isolated, but you do not have to suffer in silence. Reaching out to a compassionate Seattle attorney is the best way to regain control of your life. Your attorney will listen carefully to your concerns and identify the most strategic path forward. Together, you can pursue a protection order that shields you from further abuse and allows you to enjoy the much-needed relief you need and deserve. Reach out to a caring and understanding attorney as soon as possible to get started.


If you have questions about obtaining a protective order in the Seattle area, call the Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to speak with a dedicated and compassionate family law attorney.