What is a sexual assault protection order?


A sexual assault protection order is a civil order that tells the person who assaulted you that they must stay away from you (including where you live or work), and not contact you. You can ask a court for a sexual assault protection order even if you did not call the police or report the assault to your school.




Who can ask for a sexual assault protection order?


Anyone who has been sexually assaulted may ask (or “petition”) the court for a sexual assault protection order.




What do I have to prove to get a sexual assault protection order?


For the purposes of obtaining a sexual assault protection order, state law defines sexual assault as nonconsensual (meaning without freely given agreement) sexual conduct or penetration. Sexual conduct includes any of the following:

  • Sexual penetration of your genitals or anus by another body part, including the mouth, or with objects;
  • Sexual touching of the genitals, anus, or breasts, including through clothing; or
  • Forced display of your genitals, anus, or breasts to arouse or sexually gratify the person who assaulted you.
In your petition for a sexual assault protection order, you have to explain why (1) what happened to you falls within the definition of sexual assault stated above, and (2) you are afraid of the person who assaulted you.




How do I ask a court for a sexual assault protection order?


You file the petition with the clerk of the superior court or district court nearest you or where the sexual assault happened. There is no fee to file the petition. You can get the forms to apply for a protection order from the court, from an advocate, or from the Washington Courts’ website. An advocate at the courthouse or at a sexual assault victim advocacy program can help you fill out the form and can support you throughout the process. You can also have an attorney represent you, though you do not need an attorney to file a petition. If you can’t afford an attorney, and you want one, you can ask the court to appoint one for you.




What will happen when I file a petition for a sexual assault protection order?


On the same day that you file the petition, a judge will review it to determine whether to give you a temporary protection order. You may have to talk to the judge and answer questions about your petition. You can have an advocate or a lawyer with you. If you have an advocate who is not a lawyer, they cannot speak for you. A lawyer will speak for you, unless the judge wants you to answer questions yourself. If the judge decides that it is more likely than not that what happened to you fits the definition of sexual assault stated above, the court will enter a temporary order protecting you from the person who assaulted you for two weeks. At that time the judge will schedule a full hearing, which will occur within two weeks and which the person who assaulted you will be able to participate in and attend. The person who assaulted you has to be served with your request for the protection order and be notified that the hearing is scheduled. The police will serve the protection order for you. If the police cannot locate the person who assaulted you, it may be difficult to obtain a full protection order. Provide any information you have regarding the location of the person who assaulted you (where they live, work, or study) to law enforcement to ensure that they are able to serve the petition before the full hearing. If they can’t find them, protection order advocates at the courthouse or a lawyer can help you ask for permission to serve the person in some other way.




What happens at the protection order hearing?


You can have an advocate or an attorney with you at the full hearing. The person who assaulted will likely also attend and participate in the hearing, and they are allowed to have an attorney too. If the person who assaulted you has an attorney and you don’t, the court can appoint one for you. You must attend this hearing. If you don’t, your petition will be dismissed and you will not be protected. At the hearing, you have to show the court through your testimony and any other evidence you may have (such as copies of text messages, police reports, statements from third parties, or medical evidence) that it is more likely than not that the respondent (the person who assaulted you) did in fact commit sexual assault. The person who assaulted you will have the opportunity to present evidence, too. The judge may ask you questions about your petition. If the court decides that it is more likely than not that the sexual assault occurred, the court will grant you a protection order for a year or more.




How do I use my protection order after I have one?


Keep a copy of your protection order with you at all times. If the person who assaulted you attempts to contact you or otherwise violates the terms of the order, call 9-1-1 immediately.




What if the order is going to expire and I am still afraid of the person who assaulted me?


If your order is going to expire, and if you are still afraid of the person who assaulted you, you can ask the court to renew the protection order. You must ask the court to renew the petition at least three months before the protection order expires. Protection order advocates at the courthouse or a lawyer can help you file the documents you need to file to ask the court to renew the protection order.




Will the police arrest or prosecute the person who assaulted me if I get a protection order?


The sexual assault protection order process is not the same as a criminal proceeding. In a sexual assault protection order, you have to prove that it was more likely than not that the respondent sexually assaulted you. In a criminal proceeding, the state has to prove that the defendant sexually assaulted you beyond a reasonable doubt. That is because there is a big difference between an order to stay away from someone and being sent to jail or having a criminal conviction on your record. Because these types of cases are not the same, the outcome of a sexual assault protection order case does not usually affect anything about a criminal case for the same incident of sexual assault.





Filing a Sexual Assault Protection Order

You have the right to go to court to ask for an “sexual assault protection order,” also called a restraining order. You can get additional legal information about sexual assault protection orders at WashingtonLawHelp.org or from Sexual Violence Legal Services.