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The Washington State Legislature has created laws to protect people who are being harassed by someone else. These laws are written in a “Harassment” statute, RCW 10.14. According to this law, the legislature has written that the intent as this:
The legislature finds that serious, personal harassment through repeated invasions of a person's privacy by acts and words showing a pattern of harassment designed to coerce, intimidate, or humiliate the victim is increasing. The legislature further finds that the prevention of such harassment is an important governmental objective. This chapter is intended to provide victims with a speedy and inexpensive method of obtaining civil antiharassment protection orders preventing all further unwanted contact between the victim and the perpetrator.
If you believe someone is harrassing you in Washington State then you can go to disrict or superior court and file a “petition” under oath stating why you believe the court should issue an antiharassment order. There are standard Washington State Antiharassment forms that can assist in this process. You may also want to consider hiring a private attorney to help in this process. Because this is a “civil” procedure, the court does not provide “free attorneys” or “public defenders”.
Temporary Antiharassment Orders
The court will first determine if a temporary antiharassment order will be granted. Under the law, RCW 10.14.080, to grant an order the court must find that there was reasonable proof of unlawful harassment of the petitioner and that there will be either great or irreparable harm if the temporary order is not granted.
The term “unlawful harassment” has been defined by the Washington State Legislature in RCW 10.14.020 as “ a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental to such person, and which serves no legitimate or lawful purpose. The course of conduct shall be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and shall actually cause substantial emotional distress to the petitioner, or, when the course of conduct would cause a reasonable parent to fear for the well-being of their child.”
The legislature has has defined “course of conduct” to mean “a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose. "Course of conduct" includes, in addition to any other form of communication, contact, or conduct, the sending of an electronic communication, but does not include constitutionally protected free speech. Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of "course of conduct.”
Permanent Antiharassment Orders
If the court grants the temporary order it will also set a date for a full hearing within the next fourteen days. These are court hearings that can become relatively complex. While it can be done without a lawyer, one or both of the parties may choose to have lawyer to help at the hearing. At this hearing the court will listen to what each party (the “petitioner” and “respondent”) has to say. The court may also consider testimony from witnesses, digital recordings, video evidence, emails, and any other evidence that admitted. One thing that is different about these hearings compared to a judge or jury trial is that the rules of evidence do not apply.
After any evidence is admitted, the court may hearing closing arguments. The court then decides whether the petitioner has proven by a preponderance of the evidence whether unlawful harassment exists, and if it does, the court will issue a civil antiharassment protection order. The order will not be for more than one year unless the court finds that the harassment is going to begin at the end of the year.
Costs and Attorney Fees
Under the law, RCW 10.14.100, the court may require the respondent to pay the filing fee, court costs, and attorney fees. Surprisingly, nothing in the statute requires the petitioner to reimburse the respondent for any fees.
Further information about anti-harassment orders can be found in Washington State publications such as Guideline for Domestic Violence Protection and Antiharassment Orders.