Sexual Assault Legal Process

Step 1: Petition the Court

You can get the petitions (forms) for Sexual Assault Protection Orders at a court, from your sexual assault advocate or on the internet at www.courts.wa.gov/forms. A sexual assault advocate can help you complete the petition and be with you through this process, a lawyer may represent you, or you may petition on your own. You must swear under oath that the things you write in the petition are true. In the petition, you must state that you are a victim of sexual assault and the reasons why you are afraid of the person who assaulted you. File the petition with the court clerk at your local court. You do not have to pay a fee.

Step 2: Appear for a Temporary Hearing

After you file the petition, the clerk will give your petition to a judge who will decide whether or not to give you a temporary order. You may need to talk with the judge in a courtroom. The judge will ask you questions and you will need to answer truthfully under oath. A sexual assault advocate or a lawyer, if you have one, can come with you to this hearing. If the judge grants your petition, you will get a Temporary Sexual Assault Protection Order that is good for two weeks. The court papers will state the time and date of the next hearing - which you must attend.

Step 3: Personal Service

A copy of your petition, the temporary order and notice of the hearing date must be served on the person who assaulted you - who is called the “respondent.” The person serving the papers is typically a law enforcement officer. The officer has to be able to give these papers to the respondent personally - so if you do not know where the person is or have their address, you may not be able to get the full order. The officer must give these papers to the respondent at least five days before the full hearing. You may have to pay a fee for service.

Step 4: Appear for a Full Hearing

After two weeks, you will come back to court. If possible, you should bring a lawyer to represent you at this hearing - but you are not required to have one. A sexual assault advocate can come with you, too. The person who assaulted you will likely be at this hearing and may also bring a lawyer. You should come to this hearing, whether the respondent has been served or not. If you do not come, the court will dismiss the case and you will not be protected by an order. At the full hearing, both you and the respondent will be asked questions by the judge, the lawyers or one another about the sexual assault and other things you wrote in your petition. It is helpful to make a list of what you want to tell the judge and to bring copies of any important records such as medical or police records, if you have them.

The judge will decide whether or not to give you a full Sexual Assault Protection Order - which lasts up to two years. If you want the order to be effective for longer, you must petition the court for renewal within three months of the order’s expiration date.

Modifying/Terminating Orders

Either you or the respondent may bring a motion to modify or terminate the order. The judge will decide at a hearing whether or not to grant the motion.

Important: To obtain legal advice you should hire a lawyer (for “full service” representation or for “limited” representation) or, if you cannot afford one, contact a low cost or free legal service program. For a referral to a lawyer or a legal service program, call CLEAR (888) 201-1014. If you are the victim of sexual assault, you may also obtain assistance from Skagit DV & SA Services 24-hour hotline at 1 (888) 336-9591. Skagit County also has a courthouse facilitator who cannot provide legal advice, but who can offer limited assistance in completing necessary paperwork.

What should I do if the respondent violates my protection order?

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Show the police a certified copy of the protection order
  • The respondent can be arrested for violating the order
  • Keep a Certified Copy of Your Order With You at All Times!

Can criminal charges also be filed?

Sexual Assault Protection Orders are civil orders. Violations of these civil orders have criminal penalties, but these orders are not criminal charges against the respondent. If you wish to have criminal charges filed, contact law enforcement to report the sexual assault or your local prosecuting attorney.

Information provided by Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs and Washington State Courts.