This year marks the 35th anniversary of the first domestic violence laws in Washington. Before then, Washington law essentially treated domestic violence as an invisible private matter, rather than a public concern. In the words of one survivor, "There was no such thing as a battered woman those days.... Only some women had bad home lives, that's all."
That started to change in 1979, when the Legislature passed the Domestic Violence Act (DVA).1 Stating, "It is the intent of the legislature that the official response to cases of domestic violence shall stress the enforcement of the laws to protect the victim and shall communicate the attitude that violent behavior is not excused or tolerated," the DVA for the first time required law enforcement to respond to domestic violence and established domestic violence as a priority. The same year, the Legislature first provided state funding for domestic violence shelters.2
Since then, Washington has taken many more steps to help domestic violence survivors and to hold abusers accountable. Some key milestones are discussed below.
In 1984, the Legislature passed the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA). The DVPA established civil protection orders for domestic violence survivors, providing survivors with a straightforward and effective way to obtain protection from abusers, without the need for legal counsel or law enforcement involvement.3
In 1991, the Legislature established the Address Confidentiality Program for domestic violence survivors.4 The program directed the secretary of state to provide survivors with a substitute address to prevent abusers from locating them. The program was the first of its kind in the country.
The following year, in 1992, the Legislature made many changes to improve the domestic violence protection order process. The Legislature required courts to prepare standard petitions for domestic violence protection orders to be used by all courts, along with instructions and informational brochures describing processes and community resources.
Other amendments in 1992 made key improvements to the DVPA. RCW 26.50.060 authorized courts to issue protection orders that last longer than one year if the court finds the respondent is likely to resume acts of domestic violence against the survivor or family members (unless the order prohibits contact with the respondent's minor children). RCW 26.50.060 also provided that courts must renew a domestic violence protection order on application by the petitioner, unless the respondent proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent will not resume acts of domestic violence when the order expires.
In 1994, the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became the first comprehensive federal legislative package designed to end violence against women. VAWA included provisions focused on prevention, funding for victim services and evidentiary matters. It also included the first federal criminal law against battering and a requirement that every state afford full faith and credit to protection orders issued anywhere in the United States.
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