Recent Changes to Washington’s Domestic Violence Laws

Kelsey L. Affronte Edmonds Lawyer

The purpose of our state’s domestic violence laws is to provide enhanced protection to victims of this type of offense while sending a strong message to abusers that this behavior is not tolerated. Domestic violence relationships are between “intimate partners” (i.e. boyfriend/girlfriend, partners with children in common, etc.) or even “family or household members” (i.e. those biologically related, legally adopted, or roommates).

But what is domestic violence? This is a question the courts frequently ask themselves, both in Criminal cases and Civil petitions for Protection Orders. In February of 2022, the Washington State Supreme Court expanded the answer to this question in State v. Abdi Issa. Then, on July 1, 2022, the law expanded to include coercive control as a way for someone to commit domestic violence.

Case Law

In Abdi-Issa, Boyfriend and Girlfriend dated for several months. Girlfriend had a dog named Mona, but Mona did not like Boyfriend and Boyfriend did not like Mona (red flag!). Boyfriend had even threatened to kill Mona and Girlfriend.

One night, Boyfriend insisted on taking Mona on a walk even though Girlfriend protested. Shortly after, Boyfriend called Girlfriend telling her that Mona escaped her harness and could not be found. Girlfriend could hear Mona yelping over the phone.

Two neighbors saw Boyfriend brutally beating Mona and, ultimately, Mona died.

Prosecutors charged Boyfriend with First Degree Animal Cruelty and designated the offense as “domestic violence”. The Court recognized that domestic violence is a serious crime against society, not just against the victims, and the goal is to provide victims the maximum protection from abuse which the law can provide.

The Court held that Girlfriend was directly harmed by Boyfriend’s violent murder of her adored pet, making her a victim of Boyfriend’s crime. Boyfriend’s actions were considered psychological abuse against Victim. This means, the Court defined Boyfriend’s actions as domestic violence, even though he did not directly harm Girlfriend.

Legislative Changes

The Court was certainly nodding towards the change in law that took effect on July 1, 2022. RCW 7.105.010(4)(a) defines coercive control, but again specifies that the list is not exclusive.

Coercive control is 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. 

Now, if you are a victim of coercive control, you can petition for a Civil Protection Order. Coercive control can be committed by intimidating another or controlling conduct of another by damaging or destroying ‘items of special value’, communicating the intent to harm another’s pet, exerting control over identity documents, causing dependence, depriving the other of basic necessities or committing financial exploitation, and more.

This is an expansion of the definition of domestic violence which has not been seen before. These actions are frequently reported in Domestic Violence cases as other examples of the abuser’s ability to control the victim. I have frequently been told that an abuser will take all financial information (bank cards, checks, etc.) with them when they leave home (or provide a small allowance), threaten to harm pets, withhold passports or immigration paperwork, and refuse to allow the victim to visit certain friends or family members. Now, these actions are legally defined as coercive control and domestic violence, which greatly expands the ability of the law to protect victims of domestic violence.

If you have any questions about seeking a Civil Protection Order, please email or call (425) 776-4100.

BERESFORD BOOTH has made this content available to the general public for informational purposes only. The information on this site is not intended to convey legal opinions or legal advice.