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Definition of Stalking

Washington defines stalking as intentionally and repeatedly harassing or following another person and causing them to feel threatened, frightened, or harassed.

Definition of Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking involves using the internet, social media, or electronic communications to repeatedly harass or threaten someone. It can manifest in various ways, from sending unwanted messages to incessantly monitoring or tracking someone's online activities.

Washington State Laws on Cyberstalking

In Washington, cyberstalking is a serious offense and is covered under the state's anti-harassment laws. It's illegal to knowingly threaten to cause bodily harm, death, or the unlawful imprisonment of another person electronically. This includes stalking through social media platforms.

Understanding the Elements of Cyberstalking in Washington

For an act to be considered cyberstalking in Washington, it must meet certain criteria:

1. Intent:

The stalker must have the intention to instill fear or intimidate the victim, causing emotional distress or fear for their safety.

2. Repetition:

There should be a pattern of behavior rather than a one-time occurrence. This could include repeated messages, comments, or monitoring the victim's online presence.

3. Effect on the Victim:

The actions of the stalker must have a substantial adverse effect on the victim, causing emotional distress, fear, or disrupting their daily life.

 

Filing for a Criminal Case

Stalking is generally a gross misdemeanor in Washington, but it can be elevated to a Class B felony under certain circumstances, such as when the perpetrator has a prior conviction for stalking or the victim has a protection order.

What is misdemeanor

The victim needs to inform about the stalking to the law enforcement e.g. by calling 9-1-1. The case is then pursued by the law enforcement and criminal charges are brough if there is evidence of the below circumstances:

  1. Harassment, following, surveillance, unwanted contacting occurred
  2. The actions of the accused were intentional
  3. The actions occurred more than one time
  4. You were fearful that the accused wanted to harm you or your property
  5. The accused should have known that their behavior would create fear

So while pressing for criminal charges remains the strongest action against the accused, it is also requires the most evidence.

Penalties: Penalties for stalking convictions can include fines, probation, counseling, and imprisonment. The severity of the penalties depends on the specific circumstances of the case.

Getting a Restraining Order: “Stalking Protection Order”

These are restraining orders which the victim can request for against the accused. The protection order is not a criminal case but is a court order which requires the respondent to stay away and not stalk the victim. Failure to abide by the terms of the protection order would result in criminal charges for the accused.

Victims of stalking can seek protection orders (restraining orders) from the court. These orders may include provisions to prevent the stalker from contacting, approaching, or harassing the victim.

How Restraining Orders Solve the Problem

The purpose of a restraining order is to restrict the contact or proximity of one person (the respondent or alleged perpetrator) to another person (the petitioner or victim) in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the petitioner.

The specific terms of a restraining order can vary depending on the circumstances of the case e.g. if the people live together then it might require one party to vacate the place.

Typically, a restraining order may prohibit the respondent from

  1. Approaching or contacting the petitioner including via text or social media
  2. Staying away from the usual places petitioner is at such as home, work or school
  3. Prohibit stalking, or surveillance of any kind
  4. In situations where they lived together, provide custody or access to
    • Children
    • Pets
    • Important documents
    • Personal items such as clothes, medications, cell phones
    • Cars
  5. Extending the protections to others living with the petitioner

 

Here’s the top three findings from a study on domestic violence and restraining orders from the University of New Hampshire

Reduce Violence

Civil protective orders (such as a DVRO) are effective in reducing partner violence for many women. For half the women in the sample, a protective order stopped the violence. For the other half, the orders significantly reduced violence and abuse.

Cost Effective

They are a relatively low-cost solution, particularly when compared with the social and personal costs of partner violence.

Urban Vs. Rural

The impact of civil protective orders on reducing violence and abuse did not differ for rural and urban women. In rural areas where resources and services for partner violence may be more limited, the restraining orders hold greater importance.

Process for Restraining Orders

Gather evidence to support your case

The fallowing are considered as evidence of stalking violence

Evidence Type 1: Pending Criminal Case

Judges are also more likely to issue an order if there is an ongoing criminal case, therefore it’s important to call such cases out when seeking a temporary restraining order.

When a judge sees that there’s a criminal case happening, they might think it means the police or the district attorney are pretty sure they can prove the crime happened.

Examples of evidence are:

Evidence Type 2: Photos of stalking, text messages, emails or any other communication or contact

These are the most common types of evidence submitted. These can be photos of victim’s injuries inflicted by the abuser. It is helpful to add photos next to the related incident description to help create a complete picture for the judge.

Evidence Type 3: Print outs of messages, emails or transcripts of voicemail

You can take screenshots of text messages and attach them. Similarly you can print emails and attach them as pictures or PDF files. While in most cases you cannot submit digital files such as

Evidence Type 4: 911 Calls

Rather than just saying you called 911 or any specific hotline, you can make your case stronger by listing the following items

  • The number dialed in case of the stalking protection
  • The date and time (or approximate date and time) when the call was made
  • Who made the call
  • What was reported on the call
  • Any specific details of the person who answer the 911 call e.g. male/female voice

Evidence Type 5:  Police reports

You can attach a copy of the police reports filed against abuser for stalking.

Evidence Type 7:  Testimony

  • A testimony from a witness. The witness can be anyone such as a family member, neighbor a co-worker or a bystander. The testimony is just an essay written describing the incidents witnessed, with as many specifics as possible.

What if you don’t have any proof?

You can file a police report with the limited information you have.

You can start documenting the instances with detailed information such as time, and send an email to your friend to have a written record and a witness.

 

Get a copy of court forms 

In order to apply for a civil protection order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official Washington court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.

The most important form is the petition, and it’s called Petition for Protection Order

The complete set of documents is at the Washington Courts website. While these forms are used in most courts, certain courts use modified versions of these forms, and its important to uses those versions.

Tip: You can check your local court’s website to see the exact versions and set of court forms needed. You need to prepare these forms. Courts also offers a free self help center where you can take forms. Alternatively you can use a free website such as LegalAtoms to prepare the restraining orders paperwork online.

 

Nothing happens until you file the forms. So its a good idea to step through the forms even if you think you don’t plan to file for a protection order right now, to get

You can then file them online when you’ve thought through all aspects.  There are special protections for victims, and you’re protected even if your immigration status is undocumented in United States.

 

Step 1: File the Court Forms

Typically these are filed at your county’s Superior Courts or District Court. Some of these courts are also called Family Justice Center.

How to File Online

You can file online by preparing the court forms on LegalAtoms.com and then filing them with a single click. LegalAtoms covers all courts and jurisdictions such as Seattle area, Spokane and so forth.

Step 2: Get a Temporary Order 

Depending on the facts and evidence presented, a Judge can issue a restraining order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency Temporary Order.  In relatively less risky situations, a temporary order is issued in a few days.

If there are no grounds or if the application is incomplete or the jurisdiction is incorrect the application may be rejected.

The temporary order is only valid for about 3 weeks which is the amount of time until the hearing. If the hearing is delayed for any reason, you need to check with the court to ensure the temporary order is renewed until the hearing.

Step 3: Serve the abuser 

Step 4: Present Evidence in a Court Hearing 

Attend a hearing: The court holds a hearing within a couple of weeks where the evidence is examined. If there is sufficient supporting evidence as determined by a Judge, a full restraining order is issued. At this point it becomes a crime for the abuser to break the conditions of the restraining order.

Step 5. Collect the Final Order

After the hearing, a final order may be issued. You can take a paper copy of the order with you. The order is typically valid for five years.

Costs

Some of the civil protection orders have no cost, owing to their use in protecting victims.

Stalking:  $0  (FREE)

Duration

You can get a temporary protection order the same day as you file.

Courts can have a cutoff of around 2 p.m.  for the same day service, so you need to file before then. Otherwise, the order would be issued the following day when courts open.

Courts are generally open Monday-Friday and closed on Saturday-Sunday.

The temporary order is valid until a formal hearing is held in which both parties need to be present. Typically a hearing is scheduled in 2 weeks of filing.

At the hearing a formal order may be issued

 

Risks

It is conceivable that following the submission of a civil protection order, the abuser particularly in domestic violence situations may react with anger due to the perceived loss of control over you and your household. In certain instances, the abuser may portray themselves as the victim and shift blame onto the actual victim they were mistreating.

The response of your abuser after the filing of a protection order is unpredictable. While a Stalking Protection Order (SPO) can provide legal protection, one should not automatically assume that it guarantees safety. The initial weeks post-filing can be particularly precarious, contingent on your abuser’s reaction.

Despite the safeguards intended by a SPO, abusers may retaliate through various means, such as:

  1. Physical assault or violence
  2. Disregarding the order and persisting with threats, possibly through intermediaries
  3. Initiating a retaliatory restraining order against you
  4. Spreading false information about you in court documents, online, or publicly

Following the submission of a Stalking Protection order, it’s important to continuously assess your situation and prepare for the potential escalation of your case into more violent territory.

 

 

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