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Washington’s Sexual Assault Protection Order

In Washington state, the issue of sexual assault is addressed with the utmost seriousness, and the law provides a specific tool for protection: the Sexual Assault Protection Order (SAPO). This legal measure offers a means of protection for victims and a way to legally force their assailants to maintain their distance. Understanding the SAPO and its implications is essential for anyone who has been accused of sexual assault, as violating the order can carry hefty penalties.

What Is a Sexual Assault Protection Order?

A SAPO is a civil order issued by Washington state’s Superior or District Court. It is intended to protect people who have accused another person of sexual assault; anyone who has experienced nonconsensual sexual conduct or penetration can request an SAPO, even if it only occurred once.

The essence of the SAPO is to require the accused person, referred to as the Respondent, to maintain a distance from the accuser or Petitioner. For the issuance of an SAPO, the Petitioner must demonstrate to the court that they have been a victim of sexual assault, based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the sexual assault most likely occurred based on the available evidence.

What Are the Terms of an SAPO?

The terms of an SAPO can include a variety of restrictions, based on the needs of the Petitioner. These orders typically involve:

  • Prohibiting any form of contact with the Petitioner, including cyber harassment
  • Excluding the restrained party from coming within a certain distance of the Petitioner’s workplace, school, residence, or person
  • Ordering the surrender of firearms, dangerous weapons, and any concealed pistol licenses, thereby prohibiting the possession of these items

Who Can Get an SAPO?

An SAPO is available to anyone who has experienced sexual assault, which is defined by Washington law as:

  • Nonconsensual sexual touching of the genitals, anus, or breasts, either directly or through clothing
  • Nonconsensual sexual penetration of the genitals or anus by another body part or an object
  • Forced display of the genitals, anus, or breasts to cause sexual arousal for another person

Any person 16 years or older who is a victim can petition the court for an order. Victims under 16 require a parent or guardian to petition on their behalf. Furthermore, a third party can file on behalf of a vulnerable adult or any other adult who cannot file due to age, disability, or health.

What Are the Penalties for an SAPO Violation?

Violating a SAPO in Washington state carries significant consequences. If an alleged assailant knowingly violates specific provisions of the order, they will be arrested by law enforcement. A first-time offense is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. 

A second violation, or a violation that involves an act of violence, can carry felony consequences, punishable by three years in jail or prison. Additionally, accessing or possessing firearms while an Order to Surrender and Prohibit Weapons is in effect can result in arrest and criminal penalties. 

Defend Your Rights with a Criminal Defense Attorney 

If you are facing charges related to a SAPO violation in Washington, you need an attorney on your side. At the Law Offices of Mark S. Treyz, our Tacoma sex crimes attorney offers knowledgeable guidance and robust representation to protect your rights. After your arrest, schedule a free consultation at (253) 272-8666 and learn how we can defend your rights.