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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about Obtaining a Sexual Assault Protection Order: A Step-by-Step Guide for Survivors

  1. What is a Sexual Assault Protection Order (SAPO)?
  2. What other types of orders may help me?
  3. What can a SAPO do and not do?
  4. Am I eligible for a SAPO?
  5. How old do I have to be to petition for a SAPO?
  6. How is a SAPO issued?
  7. What types of SAPOs are there and how long do they last?
  8. How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?
  9. Do I have to go to court?
  10. How do I get a SAPO?
  11. What will I have to show at the hearing?
  12. What should I do before the hearing to prepare my case?
  13. What should I do on the day of the hearing?
  14. What is the order of events in the courtroom?
  15. What should I do when I leave the courthouse?
  16. If my SAPO is denied, what should I do?
  17. What if the offender violates the order?
  18. How do I change or extend my order?
  19. What happens to my SAPO if I move?

1. What is a Sexual Assault Protection Order (SAPO)? (RCW 7.90)

If you have been the victim of sexual conduct or penetration that you did not freely agree to, as defined by law, you may be eligible to file for a Sexual Assault Protection Order (SAPO). This court order is a document signed by a judge and tells the offender to stay away from you or face serious legal consequences, such as arrest, fines or imprisonment.

You can file for a SAPO regardless of whether or not you reported the incident to law enforcement. You can file for a SAPO regardless of whether there is a pending lawsuit, complaint, petition, or other actions between you and the offender.

If you have reported to law enforcement, the prosecutor or judge may issue a SAPO in connection with the criminal prosecution of a sex offense. The orders obtained in connection with a criminal matter may be issued prior to trial and may be included as part of a sentence.

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2. What other types of orders may help me?

Domestic Violence Order for Protection (RCW 26.50)
You are eligible for a domestic violence protection order if you or your minor child has been abused by:

  • your spouse or former spouse,
  • someone you have a child in common with,
  • adult persons related to you by blood or marriage,
  • adult persons residing with you now or who have resided with you in the past,
  • someone who you live with or used to live with AND that you have or had a dating relationship with. You both must be over 16 years old.
  • someone you are having or had a dating relationship with. You must both be over 16 years old.
  • someone who has a biological or legal parent-child relationship with you, including stepparents and stepchildren and grandparents and grandchildren.

Civil Anti-Harassment Order (RCW 10.14)
If your relationship does not meet the requirements to obtain an Domestic Violence Protection Order, you may be able to file for an Anti-Harassment Order. This order is intended to protect you if your abuser is NOT related or married to you - for example, in disputes between neighbors, and stalking (stranger-stranger) situations. This order is also helpful if you are being harassed but have not been assaulted or threatened with physical harm. To get a Civil Anti-Harassment Order, you must show that the defendant has harassed you.

The law defines "harassment" a series of acts that:

  • Must seriously alarm, annoy, or harass the victim without serving a legitimate purpose; AND
  • Must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress

Vulnerable Adult Protection Order (RCW 74.34.110)
A vulnerable adult protection order is a civil protection order that is brought on behalf of a vulnerable adult. Under the law, a vulnerable adult is generally someone over the age of sixty who has the functional, mental, or physical inability to care for themself; or is found incapacitated or who has a developmental disability or is admitted to any facility; or is receiving services from home health, hospice, or home care agencies or is receiving services from an individual provider.

Stalking Protection Order (RCW 7.92)

A civil order issued by the court on behalf of a victim of stalking. It can require the person who stalked the victim to stay away from them, their home, school, work, or other places they go to frequently. The order can also prohibit the person from contacting the victim. A person who does not qualify for a domestic violence protection order and is a victim of any stalking conduct may be eligible for a Stalking Protection Order. Stalking conduct includes stalking as defined by RCW 9A.46.110, cyberstalking as defined by RCW 9.61.260 or repeated contacts, attempts to contact, monitoring, tracking, keeping under observation, or following another person and causing a person to feel intimidated, frightened, or threatened.

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3. What can a SAPO do and not do?

The order can require the offender to stay away from you, your home, school, work or other places you request, and to have no further contact with you, including through third parties.

A SAPO cannot protect other family or household members - it applies only to the individual victim of sexual assault who seeks protection through the order.

A SAPO cannot establish visitation schedules or custody of children, order the offender to get treatment or counseling, give property or belongings to anyone, or order the offender to pay money (including child support or maintenance).

A SAPO cannot order the offender to surrender any guns or weapons.

A SAPO cannot require the offender to register as a sex offender.

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4. Am I eligible for a SAPO?

To get a SAPO, you must show that you have been the victim of nonconsensual sexual conduct or penetration. Non-consensual means that you did not freely give agreement to the sexual conduct or penetration.

You also have to be able to identify the offender. This means you need to know their name and have a location or address where the offender can be found.

The law defines, "sexual conduct" as when the offender:

  • touches or fondles your genitals, anus, or breasts, including through clothing
  • displays their genitals, anus, or breasts for the purposes of arousal or sexual gratification
  • forces you to touch their genitals, anus, or breasts
  • forces you to touch another person's genitals, anus, or breasts
  • forces you to display your genitals, anus, or breasts for the purpose of sexual gratification
  • touches the body (clothed or unclothed) of a child under the age of thirteen for the purposes of sexual gratification or arousal
  • forces a child under the age of thirteen to touch or fondle (including through clothing) their genitals, anus, or breasts

The law defines "sexual penetration" as:

  • any contact between the sex organ or anus of one person by
    • an object; or
    • the sex organ of another person; or
    • the mouth of another person; or
    • the anus of another person;
  • any intrusion into the sex organ or anus of one person by
    • any part of the body of another person; or
    • any animal; or
    • any object

Evidence of emission of semen is not required to prove sexual penetration. The court does NOT require proof of physical injury.
Note: There is no time limit for filing a SAPO - it does not matter how long ago the sexual assault occurred.

The court may NOT deny your petition for a SAPO:

  • because you were voluntarily intoxicated
  • because the offender was voluntarily intoxicated
  • because you engaged in limited consensual sexual touching

For the exact wording of the law, see RCW 7.90.

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5. How old do I have to be to petition for a SAPO?

Victims who are 16 and over can file on their own (don't need parent or guardian).

If you are under 16, you need a parent or guardian to petition on your behalf.

If you are a "vulnerable adult," as defined by law, or cannot file due to age, disability, health, or inaccessibility, a person can petition for a SAPO on your behalf.

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6. How is a SAPO issued?

A SAPO can be issued in two ways, (1) in connection with a criminal prosecution, or (2) through the civil legal system.

Criminal Law
The criminal law system handles cases that involve crimes such as rape, harassment, assault, murder, and stalking. The police may arrest the offender and then the prosecutor may decide to charge the offender with a crime.

If you are a victim of sexual assault in a criminal proceeding, the prosecutor or judge can order a SAPO in connection with the criminal case against the offender at any time throughout the prosecution of the case, and/or as a condition of sentence.

Civil Law
Under civil law, one person sues another person for a wrong. In a civil SAPO petition, you are asking the court to order the perpetrator to stay away from you. This is sometimes referred to as a "stand-alone" petition because you are filing an independent action for a SAPO.

You are not asking the court to punish the perpetrator for committing a crime. You are not required to have reported the sexual assault to the police. Unless otherwise noted, the Orders for Protection we talk about on this page are under the civil law system.

Sexual assault cases may involve both civil and criminal action. Your ability to file a "stand-alone" petition in civil court for a SAPO is not related to whether there is a criminal case against the perpetrator.

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7. What types of SAPOs are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of civil Sexual Assault Protection Orders in Washington:

Temporary SAPO.
A temporary SAPO Is designed to protect you until the court hearing you must have for a Full Order for Protection. You can receive a temporary order without a court hearing, and without the perpetrator's knowledge.

A judge will grant the temporary order only if they believe that you are in immediate danger. Temporary orders last for 14 days or until your court hearing for a Full Sexual Assault Protection Order. Although a Temporary SAPO is effective as soon as it is issued by a judge, the perpetrator must be served the court papers before law enforcement will enforce the order.

If the judge denies your request for a temporary order, you will not have an immediate protection order in place but you will still be given a court date to come back for a hearing for a Full SAPO.

During these 14 days, the perpetrator is served and given notice of the hearing, your allegations, and the court date for a hearing. You must come to this hearing, whether the perpetrator has been served or not. If you do not come, the court will dismiss the case and you will not be protected by an order.

Full SAPO
A Full SAPO can be issued only after a court hearing in which you and the perpetrator both have a chance to tell your sides of the story. If the perpetrator is served (and proof of service is provided to the court) but does not appear for the court hearing, the judge can issue a Full SAPO.

A Full SAPO is effective for up to two years. If you want the order to be effective for longer, you must petition the court for renewal within three months of the order's expiration date.

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8. How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?

There is no filing fee for a SAPO. You may have to pay a fee for service if you choose to have law enforcement serve the court papers.

You do not need a lawyer for a SAPO. However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the offender has a lawyer. Under the law, the judge has the option to appoint a lawyer for you if the offender has a lawyer at the hearing for the full order. If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

Community sexual assault programs in your area can provide you with information and support during the legal process, and may have lawyer referrals.

If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, one of these legal resources may be able to help you. 

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9. Do I have to go to court?

Yes. This process is outlined below in "How do I get a SAPO?"

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10. How do I get a SAPO?

Step 1: Get the necessary forms. To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a Sexual Assault Protection Order. You can get the forms from the civil clerk at the courthouse, but you may want to find them before you go and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a community sexual assault program. You will find links to forms online on the WA Download Court Forms page. Most community sexual assault programs can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court. 

Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms. On the petition, the person seeking protection is called the "petitioner," and the perpetrator is called the "respondent." (If you bring the petition on behalf of a minor or vulnerable adult, put that person's name as the "petitioner"). For detailed instructions on how to fill out the forms, go to WA Download Court Instructions. You should be aware that court clerks can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write. Advocates at community sexual assault programs may be able to help you fill out the paperwork (RCW 7.90.060). You may also wish to contact an attorney to assist you in filling out the forms. 

You will need to provide a safe mailing address. If your address is not safe, do not includes it, because the perpetrator will receive the court papers containing the address. You may wish to provide the address of a family member or friend who can receive paperwork and court documents for you. Or ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential or click here to learn more about Washington's Address Confidentiality Program.

Step 3: Bring your identification and identifying information about the perpetrator. When you go to the courthouse, bring some form of identification. It is also helpful to bring identifying information about the perpetrator, if you have it:

  • a photo
  • social security number
  • addresses of residence and employment
  • phone numbers
  • address or workplace address for perpetrator
  • a description and plate number of the perpetrator's car, if you know it
  • any history of drugs, violence or gun ownership
  • any identifying characteristics such as tattoos

Note: If you cannot identify the person who sexually assaulted you, you cannot obtain a SAPO.

Step 4: Go to the courthouse to file the forms. You will need to file the forms at the courthouse in the county or city where you (the petitioner) live. To file the forms, during business hours, go to the civil clerk of court. Tell the clerk that you want to file for a Sexual Assault Protection Order. If you need the emergency protection of a temporary (ex parte) order, also tell the clerk you need a temporary (ex parte) Order for Protection. To find contact information for the courthouse in your area, click on WA Courthouse Locations & Info.

The clerk will take your completed forms to a judge or commissioner or direct you how to give the forms to the judge or commissioner.

You have a right to bring a sexual assault advocate or other support person of your choice with you. See RCW 70.125.060.

Step 5: Ex parte hearing. If you are in immediate danger and request a temporary order, you will go to an ex parte hearing before a judge or commissioner. The perpetrator does not have to be present or notified that you are asking the judge for a Temporary SAPO. After the ex parte hearing, return to the clerk's office. If you were granted a temporary order, the clerk will file the signed temporary order and make certified copies. Be sure to discuss how many copies you need, since additional copies will be needed for schools, daycare, and your place of employment. There is no charge for certified copies of the order.

Note: If you receive a Temporary SAPO, keep a copy of it with you at all times. If you did not request a Temporary SAPO or your request for the Temporary order was denied, you are not protected by a temporary order and must wait until the hearing. Whether the judge grants you a temporary order or not, you will be given a court date for a hearing within 14 days. The clerk then issues a case number. The clerk will file the original petition and make two copies - one for your records and one to be served on the respondent. The hearing will be in front of a judge at a time shown on the "Notice of Hearing." "Notice of the Hearing" is the document that tells the respondent where and when to appear. At this hearing, the respondent and you will each have a chance to explain your side to the judge. 

Step 6: Service of process. The respondent must be personally "served" or given notice of a hearing five judicial days prior to the hearing. If the respondent has not been served in time, the hearing will be rescheduled. In that situation, you may ask the court to reissue the temporary order and attempt to have the respondent served again.

The respondent must receive personal notice of the court forms. You can ask the clerk to send the law enforcement office a copy of the Petition for the Order for Protection and a copy of the temporary order (if you were granted one) to serve the respondent. A Return of Service form and a Law Enforcement Information Sheet will also be included for law enforcement's use.

If the respondent was not served in time and shows up at the hearing, the court may proceed even though service was not timely. If the respondent was served but does not show up at the hearing, the hearing will proceed without the respondent. This is also called a default hearing.

Any adult 18 or over, other than you, who is not a party to the action can serve the papers. However, people usually want a law enforcement officer to serve the offender because they are an objective third party who is trained to handle problems, should they arise. Ask the clerk for a third party service packet if you decide not to have law enforcement serve the papers.

Do not attempt to serve the offender with the court papers yourself.

Step 7: Sorting out the paperwork. The clerk will send a copy of the temporary order and the Law Enforcement Information sheet to the police station near where you live so it can be entered into the statewide law enforcement computer system. This is to ensure that your order can be enforced by the police or sheriff. The Law Enforcement Information Sheet will not be given or shown to the respondent.

The Sexual Assault Protection Order or a reissued temporary order must be filed with the clerk. The clerk will make certified copies for you to take. When you leave the court, you should have the following papers:

  • copy of the Petition for a Sexual Assault Protection Order
  • the original completed Law Enforcement Information Sheet,
  • at least one certified copy of the Temporary Order, and
  • a completed Sexual Assault Protection Order form

Step 8: Full court hearing. On the day of the hearing, you must go to court to ask the judge to make your temporary order (good only for up to 14 days) a Full Order for Protection, which will last for up to two years. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over. Bring all of your paperwork with you. You will present the Sexual Assault Protection Order form for the judge or court commissioner's review and signature. You may bring a sexual assault advocate or other support person of your choice to the hearing.

You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the perpetrator has a lawyer. You can also represent yourself. If the perpetrator shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a "continuance" (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. You may also ask the judge to appoint a lawyer for you if the respondent has a lawyer. See RCW 7.90.070. If you absolutely cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the judge's office to ask that your case be "continued," but the judge may deny your request. If your request is granted, write down the full name of the person you spoke with and the date and time of the conversation.

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11. What will I have to show at the hearing?

As the petitioner requesting a Sexual Assault Protection Order, you must:

  • Show the judge, by a preponderance of evidence, that the respondent has committed an act or acts of nonconsensual sexual conduct or nonconsensual sexual penetration (as defined by the law) against you; and that
  • As a result, to feel safe, you need protection and for the respondent to stay away from you.

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12. What should I do before the hearing to prepare my case?

Collect evidence to help you prove your case.
Evidence can include:

  • What you or a witness says in court about the incident(s)
  • Medical reports
  • Police reports
  • Weapons used
  • Tapes of calls you may have made to 911
  • Certified copies of the offender's criminal record
  • Anything else to help you convince the judge you have suffered sexual assault and need certain relief and protection

The more evidence you have, the greater your chances of being granted a protection order. However, the judge will listen to your story even if you have no paper evidence or witnesses.

Contact witnesses who saw the assault or your injuries.
Anyone can be a witness - a friend, family member, children, emergency room nurse, doctor, stranger, law enforcement officer, etc. Some witnesses may not want to come to court unless they are given a subpoena which commands them to appear and testify. Ask the court clerk how to subpoena witnesses. If the people you subpoena do not come to the hearing, let the judge know.

Practice telling your story.
You may want to make an outline or notes about what happened. You may take notes to court with you to look at if you forget something, but if you read from them, the judge may order that the respondent be allowed to see them. Tell your story in your own words - describe any nonconsensual sexual conduct or nonconsensual sexual penetration and the approximate date and time. Be very specific and descriptive. Include any statements or actions of the respondent made at the time of the incident or at any other time that caused you fear. The more details you can provide, the better. For example, it is better to say "On Saturday, May 5 at 10:00 p.m., Joe held me down with his body weight and forced me to have sex in my living room" rather than "Joe assaulted me." Be specific. Don't be afraid to use works that you may be uncomfortable with - you may need to use words for body parts to adequately describe the assault.

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13. What should I do on the day of the hearing?

  • Be on time.
  • Dress neatly. (No shorts or ripped clothing. No sleeveless dresses or blouses. Wear clean clothes).
  • Be prepared to spend all day in court (There may be hearings before yours).
  • Have your evidence ready.
  • Have your witnesses there and ready. Tell the judge or court clerk BEFORE the hearing begins if your witnesses are in the courtroom.
  • If you have subpoenaed witnesses and they are not present you should inform the judge or court clerk when your case is called.
  • Tell the clerk when your case is called.
  • Speak directly to the judge; they will understand if you feel nervous.
  • Always address the judge as "Your Honor."
  • If the respondent comes to court with a lawyer and you do not have one, ask the judge to appoint one for you or for a "continuance" so you can look for a lawyer.
  • Once your case is called, go to the front of the courtroom and find a seat. It is your right to bring a support person with you to court. If the offender sits next to you, you can take another seat and ask the court staff for help keeping the offender away from you.
  • Stand when the judge enters the courtroom and sit when the judge or bailiff asks you to.
  • Relax and remain calm.
  • Take deep breaths if you feel yourself getting tense. Never lose your temper in the courtroom. If you become emotional, its okay - ask the judge for a moment to compose yourself.
  • Always tell the truth.
  • If you don't understand a question, just say so.
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, just say so. Never make up an answer.

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14. What is the order of events in the courtroom?

  • At the hearing, everyone who will testify will swear or affirm to tell the truth.
  • Since you are the petitioner, you will tell your side of the story first.
  • The judge and the respondent (or the respondent's lawyer) may ask you questions. If you are scared to answer any of them, tell the judge.
  • When you are done, your witnesses may speak. You or your attorney may ask them questions, and then the respondent or their attorney will have a turn to ask them questions.
  • The respondent will tell their side. It may be very different from yours. After the respondent tells their story, you (or your lawyer) are allowed to ask them questions.
  • The judge will make a decision after hearing both sides and considering the evidence.
  • If the judge decides in your favor, the judge will sign your Sexual Assault Protection Order. There will be boxes checked or things written in by the judge that the respondent has been ordered to do. The judge can make the Sexual Assault Protection Order be effective for as long as two years. (Within three months of the order's expiration date, you may apply to the court to have your Order extended. You will have to go to a short hearing to tell a judge why you need it extended.)
  • If the respondent is present, they will sign and take home a copy of the Order.
  • You will be given a copy of the Order. Review it carefully before you leave the courthouse. If you have ANY questions about it, be sure to ask the judge. Make sure you understand what the order says before you leave the courtroom.
  • A copy of the signed Order will be forwarded with a Law Enforcement Information Sheet to the law enforcement agency where you live for entry in the statewide computer system.

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15. What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • Get several certified copies of the order as soon as possible from the clerk. There is no charge for the certified copies of a SAPO.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in the order, such as a school if applicable.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks and your phone number.

One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the Sexual Assault Protection Order from the clerk.

You may also wish to make a safety plan. You can do a number of things to increase your safety - your specific and unique circumstances will determine the elements of your safety plan. An experienced sexual assault or domestic violence advocate is an excellent resource for developing a safety plan. Many perpetrator obey protection orders, but some do not, and it is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.

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16. If my SAPO was denied, what should I do?

If the order was denied, there are still some things you can do to stay safe. It might be a good idea to contact one of the sexual assault programs in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe. They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need. You will find a list of rape crisis centers at Community Sexual Assault Programs in Washington state.

If you were not granted a SAPO, you may be able to seek protection through one of these orders depending on your relationship with the offender and the factual circumstances surrounding the incident(s):

You may also be able to reapply for a SAPO if you have new evidence to show the court that the sexual assault did occur, or if a new incident of sexual assault occurs after you are denied the Order.

If you believe the judge made an error, you can talk to someone at a sexual assault program or a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.

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17. What if the perpetrator violates the order?

Violating a SAPO is against the law. There are two ways to get help if this happens. 

Through the Police or Sheriff (Criminal)
If the perpetrator violates the SAPO, call 911 immediately. In most cases, they can be arrested right away. The perpetrator must have received notice of the existing order, by service or appearance in court.

A violation of either of the following two provisions subjects the offender to a mandatory arrest:

  • Violating the "restrain from causing or threatening harm" to the petitioner provision
  • Entering a residence, workplace or school, or other areas the court has ordered the offender to vacate or stay away from

Tell the officers you have a protection order and the perpetrator is violating it. If the perpetrator is arrested, then the prosecutor can initiate a criminal prosecution. If found guilty of a violation of a SAPO, the perpetrator may be put in jail.

The respondent can be arrested even if you invite or allow the respondent to violate the prohibitions contained in the order. The respondent has the sole responsibility to avoid or refrain from violating the order's provisions.

Through the Civil Court System (Civil)
You may file for civil contempt for a violation of the order. The perpetrator is in "civil contempt" if they do anything that your protection order orders them not to do.

If you are considering filing for civil contempt, you should discuss the specifics of your case and the civil contempt process with an attorney. If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, one of these legal resources may be able to help. 

You may wish to check with the Prosecutor's Office to determine if criminal charges will be filed against the respondent. Regardless of the prosecutor's decision to file or not to file charges, you may still proceed with a civil contempt action.

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18. How do I change or extend my Order for Protection?

To modify your order, go back to the court where you got it and file a petition with the clerk. If you are seeking a renewal, you must file within 90 days of its expiration date. A judge may extend your order by granting a renewal for up to two years. Be sure to bring your SAPO with you.

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19. What happens to my SAPO if I move?

Your order is valid throughout the state of Washington. If you change residence, you should bring a copy of your order to the police department in your new area. It is a good idea to call the clerk at the courthouse where you got your order to change your address.

If you are moving out of state, your order will be valid, but you will need to determine how your new state enforces out-of-state protection orders. You can find out about your new state's policies by contacting a sexual assault program, the clerk of the court, or the prosecutor in your area. If you are moving to a new state, you may also call the National Center on Full Faith and Credit 1 (800) 903-0111 for information on enforcing your order there.

Note: Civil protection orders may not be enforceable on military bases, and military protective orders may not be enforceable off base. Please check with your local police department, court clerk and/or sexual assault advocate for more details.

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Reviewed: March 15th, 2017