Sexual Assault Protection Order Litigation. An Experienced Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective
“Victims who do not report the crime still desire safety and protection from future interactions with the offender. Some cases in which the rape is reported are not prosecuted. In these situations, the victim should be able to seek a civil remedy requiring that the offender stay away from the victim. It is the intent of the legislature that the sexual assault protection order created by this chapter be a remedy for victims who do not qualify for a domestic violence order of protection.”
RCW 7.90.005 Legislative declaration.
If you have been served with an SAPO, Sexual Assault Protection Order, and are considering fighting it, review the below material as well as our section on fighting a protection orders. If you are looking to pursue a Sexual Assault protection Order with or without the assistance of counsel, read below.
Sexual Assault Protection Orders address sexual assault and inappropriate behavior done for sexual gratification when a case does not qualify for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. RCW 7.90.
The laws that create Sexual Assault Protection Orders, SAPO’s for short, are found in the Sexual Assault Protection Order Act. From our perspective as practicing attorneys | lawyers who have prosecuted, litigated and fought a great number of these Orders, we find these kinds of cases range from unreported rape and unwanted sexual contact with or without excessive alcohol consumption, and dates or relationships that have gone bad. Sexual Assault Protection Orders are often sought because parties attend the same school, are in the same branch of the military, attend the same college or high school, work together, have an employee/employer relationship, share friends, are neighbors or for some reason must continue to interact with each other. In this setting, the humiliation, fear and feeling of degradation associated with the nonconsensual sexual conduct can be overwhelming. Sexual Assault Protection Orders, SAPO, provide protection if:
(a) The contact was “Nonconsensual”, meaning a lack of freely given agreement, and,
(b) there was, at minimum, intentional and knowing touching of private areas directly or indirectly though clothing, or
(c) Intentional or knowing display of private areas for sexual gratification, or
(d) Assaulted party was forced to display private areas for sexual gratification of others, or,
(e) Any coerced, forced or intentional touching of a child under 13 for sexual gratification, either directly or indirectly through clothing.
These Sexual Assault Protection Orders can:
- Order the abuser not have any further contact, direct or indirect with the filing party;
- Prevent the abuser from being at the filing party’s workplace, residence or school;
- Order the abuser to stay a set distance away from a specific location (schools, work, residences etc.);
- Gives the judge broad power to take any other necessary or appropriate steps to protect the petitioner;
- Order an abuser to move and relocate schools under certain circumstances.
A valid civil Sexual Assault Protection Order functionally shifts the police and law to the abused party’s side and gives them police protection consistent with the courts order. Our lawyers have represented a wide variety of clients and relationships and have seen a great number of these orders play out so our advice is steeped in experience and wisdom. If you are thinking about pursuing a Sexual Assault Protection Order, think carefully. These are serious accusations that when disputed, can become quite heated and time consuming. We have litigated many of these orders and are highly experienced in their use and application.
Where do you file a Sexual Assault Protection Order?
Sexual Assault Protection Orders can be filed by any adult or on behalf of a minor or vulnerable adult. In general, they are filed and litigated in Superior Court. Best practice is to file in the local Superior Court where the filing party presently resides.
Offender is out of State: In cases where the offending party lives out of state, there is a specific provision of the law that allows for “jurisdiction” to be found on out of state offenders. This law allows written statements sent by electronic mail or the Internet to be deemed to have “occurred within this state”, among other things. Consult with the lawyers | attorneys in our office about your specific situation as this issue is tricky because you have to prove Washington court has jurisdiction over the other out of state party. It is possible but requires a careful review of the above-mentioned law.
How is a Sexual Assault Protection Order filed?
There are a set of forms that need to be filled out and filed with the court clerks just inside the court building at no cost. Although each Court may have its own forms, the forms used for Sexual Assault Protection Orders are universal in the State of Washington.
These forms, along with declarations and facts that support your story are submitted and filed with the clerk at the appropriate court. Our lawyers usually spend 2+ hours talking, listening, asking questions, strategizing and taking notes before deciding how best to arrange a case for court. We generally spend a similar period of time organizing declarations, police reports, emails, Facebook, photos and any other evidence into the Petition to submit to court. As lawyers, we find we spend an average of 10-20 hours in total litigation a Sexual Assault Protection Orders (including court time) though some complicated and litigious disputes have required 30-60 hours and multiple court appearances. All cases are fact dependent but this should give you an idea of how much time to expect to spend if you are really interested in winning.
Filing these forms with the front clerk at the local Superior court will automatically give you a court hearing (often the day you file them) where a judge or commissioner will decide whether to:
(1) Immediately enter a Temporary Protection Order if appropriate and simultaneously set a hearing 14 days later to hear argument from the other side as to whether the court should enter something more permanent.
(2) Not enter a Temporary Order for immediate protection, but still set a Hearing in 14 days to hear argument from both sides before deciding whether a long term Protection Order should be entered.
(3) Deny your request for an Order.
Then What happens?
If your request for a Protection Order is denied, you can always come back to court at a later time with new facts and ask the court for an Order.
If your request for a Sexual Assault Protection Order is granted, and a Temporary Order is also granted till a full hearing is set in 14 days, a copy of this Order must be served upon the offending party and it becomes effective on service. Though we have seen people try to use friends or family to serve paperwork, this is actually a terrible idea. Using police officers to serve Sexual Assault Protection Orders is safer, avoids unnecessary conflict, assures there is no argument about when and where the other party was served and reinforces how serious the process is. The lawyers in our office only use police officers as a policy. Copies of these Temporary Orders are entered into the statewide police database for active warrants so all police agencies are aware of them and will act on them.
At the hearing 14 days later, all parties attend and the court will decide whether to enter a longer order after hearing both points of view. The responding party has a duty to provide a copy, in advance, of any paperwork they wish to submit to the court else another continuance may be required and if service of the protection order paperwork is made late in the two week period (it happens), expect a judge or commissioner to be willing to grant a continuance for an additional period of time to allow the other side to prepare. If a Temporary Protection Order was initially granted, the judge will renew it until the full hearing takes place. In all of our years in court, we have never had a judge let a Temporary Protection Order lapse until a full hearing has been held.
In order to win this hearing, you must prove the offending party engaged in nonconsensual sexual conduct by a preponderance of the evidence and you must follow the court rules in presenting your case. In general, we always proceed using written declarations and work with our clients to prepare them for any potential questions, issues and pitfalls. Given the number of hearings we have attended, our advice is comprehensive and complete.
What happens if I win the hearing?
If you win the hearing, the judge will issue an order, not to exceed two years. Judges are generally cautious about entering longer orders because the law allows the winning party to renew and extend orders one or more times any time within three months of an order’s expiration. RCW 7.90.121
The valid longer term Sexual Assault Protection Order (which replaces the Temporary Protection Order) will again be sent to a statewide police database and is a basis for the police to arrest if probable cause is found that it has been violated. In general, we find police departments take these orders very seriously.
Over the course of our lengthy legal careers, our lawyers | attorneys have handled a wide variety of complicated and emotionally tangled cases in the criminal, civil and administrative legal arenas. Our office is a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know cases are rarely as simple as police reports or accusations claim. Our clients hire us because they want trained listeners who are staunch, uncompromising and effective. They want counsel who takes the time to listen and fight vigorously for the right result. Whether acting in our role as counsel, advocate, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience manipulating, working and fighting to resolve cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.