Photo depicting a mural of different women looking up towards the sky against a bright yellow background.

Virtual Town Hall Highlights Legal Efforts to Further Protect Survivors of Domestic Violence

by Elizabeth Turnbull

Following a rise in domestic violence rates during the course of the pandemic, Sen. Manka Dhingra and others spoke at a town hall Wednesday, Nov. 3, highlighting new state legislation which is making it easier for survivors to seek protections from their abusers.

“We wanted to make sure that we were addressing long-standing issues that were highlighted by the pandemic,” Dingra said. “… We have a continued responsibility to help survivors reclaim their lives and move forward in a positive way.”

Dingra noted an increase in the rates of domestic violence in 2020. According to one survey, rates of domestic violence related homicides nearly doubled in King County in 2020, when compared to the two years prior. And incidents of domestic violence increased roughly 8% nationwide. On top of an increase in incidents, Dingra said that existing issues associated with acquiring protection orders against abusers have made it difficult for survivors to seek help at a time of intense need.

Washington State has a uniquely complex system of civil protection orders, which are meant to protect a victim from a person who is being abusive or harmful in other ways. For example, there are six different types of civil protection orders, which respond to different types of abuse ranging from domestic violence to harassment. 

Passed in May of this year and sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman, Rep. My-Linh Thai, and others, Washington House Bill 1320 was made to simplify the statutes in order to make protective orders easier for survivors to understand and receive. To do this, the bill puts the six different orders into a single chapter of the Revised Code of Washington. 

“We wanted to make sure that we were eliminating conflicts, gaps, and unnecessary differences among the existing laws,” Dingra said.”… The goal of this legislation was really to make sure that we were minimizing complexity.”

Issues like navigating a lack of childcare, conflicts with work, and other interferences to completing a protection order request are also being noticed by lawmakers and by the State Legislature. In order to make the process more accessible in general, the recent bill also advocates for the ability to file petitions online, instead of exclusively in person at a courthouse .

“The silver lining of the pandemic is that it gave us the opportunity to try new things,” said Sandra Shanahan, program manager at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit, who also spoke at the town hall. “When we reflected on … [issues like] remote appearance and electronic service … it gave us the opportunity to look … whole cloth at all of the barriers overtime that have impacted survivors.” 

Working to address language barriers and abuse of the system by perpetrators are just some of the issues that still need to be fully addressed in order to protect survivors, but those working in the field are hopeful at the changes that have already come.

“There’s more work to be done,” Shanahan said. “But we’re absolutely on the right track to better support survivors.”

Individuals experiencing domestic violence can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE and can find a list of resources in Washington State here.

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

📸 Featured Image: The Domestic Violence Awareness Mural: “A Survivor’s Journey” (2010) by Joel Bergner. Photo is attributed to Elvert Barnes (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 license).

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