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What Is Domestic Violence in Washington?

Posted by attorney Jennie Laird

The legal definition: "Domestic violence" (RCW 26.50.010) means: (a) Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; (b) Sexual assault of one family or household member by another; (c) Stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family or household member by another family or household member.

"Stalking" (RCW 9A.46.110) means: (1) A person commits the crime of stalking if, without lawful authority and under circumstances not amounting to a felony attempt of another crime: (a) He or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses or repeatedly follows another person; and (b) The person being harassed or followed is placed in fear that the stalker intends to injure the person, another person, or property of the person or of another person. The feeling of fear must be one that a reasonable person in the same situation would experience under all the circumstances; and (c) The stalker either: (i) Intends to frighten, intimidate, or harass the person; or (ii) Knows or reasonably should know that the person is afraid, intimidated, or harassed even if the stalker did not intend to place the person in fear or intimidate or harass the person.

That is the legal definition of domestic violence. Bear in mind that the legal definition does not encompass all of the components of the pattern of domestic violence, and it is not designed to validate the experiences of every survivor.

Why we need a legal definition:

  • To make perpetrating that behavior a crime;
  • To define a finite universe of behaviors that one may seek the court's protection from;
  • To have a common language.

What the legal definition does not include: Domestic violence as defined in lay-persons' terms, and as described by battered women, includes a wide range of patterns and behaviors. Some behaviors that are included in the context of the legal definition of DV, and which are used as tools by batterer's to exert continued power and control over their victims, include:

  • Patterns of using power & control
  • Emotional abuse
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation
  • "Crazy making" behavior possessiveness
  • Coercion & threats
  • Sexual abuse
  • Degradation
  • Economic control
  • Minimizing, denying & blaming
  • Using children
  • Abusing "privileges" (cultural, financial, etc).

Because the legal definition does not include all of the behaviors people who have been battered in intimate relationships perceive as "domestic violence," anyone needing to turn to the court for protection must be aware of the legal definition, and should seek advice regarding whether and how their experiences "fit" the legal definition.

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