Coercive Control and Social Media in Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Connor M. Wicknick Edmonds Lawyer

In July 2022, the Washington Legislature passed House Bill 1901, which formally added “coercive control” to the domestic violence statute, RCW 7.105.010.   Coercive control is defined as a pattern of behavior that is used to cause another to suffer physical, emotional, or psychological harm, and in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.

Coercive control includes, in part:

(i) Intimidation or controlling or compelling conduct by:

(B) Using technology to threaten, humiliate, harass, stalk, intimidate, exert undue influence over, or abuse the other party, including by engaging in cyberstalking, monitoring, surveillance, impersonation, manipulation of electronic media, or distribution of or threats to distribute actual or fabricated intimate images.

With the widespread prevalence of smartphones, victims of domestic violence are experiencing new types of domestic violence at the hands of their abusers.  In many ways, technology has made it easier for “intimate partners[1]” to threaten, humiliate, harass, stalk, intimidate, exert undue influence over, or abuse one another through text, email, and social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, etc.).  This is especially the case when an intimate relationship ends abruptly or on hostile terms.

This type of domestic violence can be simultaneously inescapable and unpredictable, which leads victims to feel trapped and hesitant about seeking protection from their abuser.  Fortunately, this type of domestic violence is often easy to demonstrate to a court with the help of an attorney.  The communications and information we share online creates a record of our actions.  When people come to us with possible domestic violence cases where an “intimate partner” has used technology to perpetuate abuse, we can use screenshots, emails, videos, messages, etc. to petition the court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order on their behalf. 

You should seek legal advice and counsel with any attorney if you believe you are being subjected to domestic violence through the use of technology, which is now explicitly recognized under Washington’s domestic violence statute RCW 7.105.010.

[1] i.e. spouses or domestic partners, former spouses or former domestic partners, persons who have a child in common (unless the child was conceived through sexual assault), and persons at least 13 years of age who have, or have had, a dating relationship.

To learn more about Coercive Control and Social Media in Domestic Violence Protection Orders, please contact Beresford Booth at or by phone at (425) 776-4100.

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