Domestic violence: Can the criminal legal system help me?

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If you are being hurt, threatened, or stalked, try to talk with a domestic violence program. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. Read this to learn what you should think about if you're thinking about filing a DVPO. #3705EN

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in Washington State or experienced domestic violence recently in Washington State.
  • If you are currently experiencing domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking, get help from your local domestic violence shelter. Shelters provide safety planning, temporary shelter, legal advocacy, counseling, and other services. To find the program nearest you, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you feel comfortable doing so and you trust law enforcement, you can call the police if:

  • Someone has hit or hurt you
  • Someone has physically or sexually assaulted you
  • Someone has damaged or destroyed your property
  • Someone has threatened you with a weapon
  • Someone is stalking you
  • You are the victim of a crime
  • Someone who does not live with you forces their way into your home

* If you do not feel comfortable with or trust law enforcement, you should still try to talk to someone at the domestic violence shelter nearest you. Call 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.

The police must:

  • make a report
  • tell you in writing what your rights are as a domestic violence victim
  • make sure you are not still in danger

The person who hurt you is “the perpetrator.”

The police must arrest the perpetrator if both of these are true:

  1. The perpetrator is your spouse, former spouse, someone you live with or used to live with, someone related you to by blood or marriage, or someone with whom you have a child.
  2. Law enforcement believes the perpetrator has assaulted and hurt you within the last four hours.

The police can arrest the perpetrator, even if the assault happened more than four hours ago, if there is evidence of an assault.

  • The police must arrest the perpetrator even if you do not have a Protection Order or restraining order against the perpetrator.

The perpetrator may be out of jail a few hours after any arrest. Have someone stay with you or take your family to a friend’s home or domestic violence shelter.

If you did not call the police at the time of the incident, you can later. Ask them to take a report and have charges filed. Generally, police reports go to your City or Prosecuting Attorney. They decide whether to file criminal charges.

If they do not, you are entitled to written notice and information on how to ask that they file charges.

If the City or Prosecuting Attorney files charges, you probably have to go to court to testify. The Prosecuting or City Attorney does not represent you. They represent the State. Your part in the criminal case is as a witness for the State.

The Prosecuting or City Attorney should talk to you about your testimony before trial. Call them if you have any questions.

Many offices will give you an advocate to help you through the process. Ask for an advocate if you must testify. It might take months for a case to come to trial.

Yes. If you are afraid the perpetrator might hurt you again, tell the advocate or prosecuting or city attorney you want one.

A no-contact order bans the perpetrator from any contact with you before trial. If you report a violation of the order, the police must immediately arrest the perpetrator.

  • You should not contact the perpetrator at all when you have a no-contact order.

A no-contact order is different from other orders described here. Read the description in the attached table.

Here are some things the court can do if it finds the perpetrator guilty of a crime of domestic violence:

  • Extend the No-Contact Order
  • Order counseling or drug treatment
  • Order the perpetrator to pay you back for your medical expenses and property destruction
  • Place the perpetrator on probation
  • Order jail time if the assault was severe or the perpetrator has a criminal record

You may be entitled to money from the Crime Victims’ Compensation program if either of these is true:

  1. You needed medical care for your injuries from the abuse.
  2. Your injuries prevent you from working.

You must report the crime to law enforcement within one year to get compensation. You have two years from reporting to law enforcement to apply to the Crime Victims Compensation program.

  • The State does not have to file charges or convict the perpetrator for you to get victim compensation.
  • Law enforcement officials must tell you about this law, or you can ask them about it. You can get benefits even if you are still living with the perpetrator.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Jul 06, 2022
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