Advocacy teamwork helped lead to improved protection orders for sexual assault victims in Washington State.
With a stroke of Governor Jay Inslee’s pen Friday, May 5, a new law changed protection orders for sexual assault victims. Before that, victims of sexual assault could only get two-year protection orders from their perpetrators. The new law abolishes the two-year limit. A judge can now determine the length of a sexual assault protection order, making them much the same as protection orders for domestic violence, stalking and harassment.
“We’ve been part of the effort to pass this bill for the last two years,” said Erin Williams Hueter, Director of Victim Advocacy and Education at LCS Northwest Spokane. “Others have been trying longer than that.”
In our Spokane office, Hueter worked with Advocacy Supervisor Jenn Davis Nielsen to build support for better sexual assault protection orders (SAPOs) in eastern Washington. They teamed up with the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center to advocate for a change in protection orders on a statewide basis.
They wrote editorials for newspapers. They were part of a lobbying strategy in Olympia. In 2016, it looked as if the legislature was poised to pass the bill after the Senate unanimously approved it, but it died in the house when the National Rifle Association suddenly expressed opposition.
“That was disappointing, but I was cautiously optimistic that the legislature would pass it this year,” Hueter said. The NRA opposed the bill again in 2017, but it did not stop passage. Hueter addressed the NRA issue in an editorial to The Spokesman-Review.
“There is no automatic requirement to surrender firearms when any protection order is granted,” Hueter stated. “A separate hearing is held to determine whether the respondent displayed a weapon or used a weapon to threaten the victim, or whether there is some other reason the respondent cannot possess a firearm. This bill makes no change to current law regarding weapons forfeiture under protection orders.”
Hueter said she is pleased that there is now less of chance that victims will have to go back to court and prove the need to extend a sexual assault protection order.
“It’s a devastating thing to have to do as a rape or a child sexual assault victim,” she said. “I’m so relieved and happy to know that survivors will no longer have to face the person that hurt them over and over and over again.”
Hueter said she learned two things from this advocacy experience. The first is that victims’ stories carry the most weight in swaying lawmakers. The second is to connect and work with other passionate individuals to change laws.
“The more that we work together to advocate the easier it is to make positive changes,” Hueter said.