You may remember Megan, a campus sexual assault survivor who was wrongfully denied the protection she sought—the protection she needed—from a Washington court.
Though her account of the assault was uncontested, the court denied her petition for a sexual assault protection order (SAPO). The reason? She didn't prove she had a reasonable fear of future dangerous acts by the man, even though—like many victims of campus sexual assault—she had to continue to attend school with him.
The thing is, the SAPO law was expressly created to be simple and straight-forward, so rape survivors can quickly get the protection they need. It was specifically intended to protect people who didn't have an existing relationship with their attacker. Legal Voice spoke up on Megan's behalf, arguing that the law requires survivors to prove only a single incident of sexual assault, and the Court of Appeals agreed.
But the accused student appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court. He claimed that the law required Megan to prove not only that he raped her, but that she had additional reasons to fear him in the future. He also claimed that granting her a SAPO without this proof violated his rights.
Unfortunately, six members of the Supreme Court agreed with him. This means Megan has once again been denied the protection she sought. Today's decision undermines the promise of protection and the true intention of the law.
Because the truth is, being sexually assaulted once is reason enough to fear the person who assaulted you. As Justice Debra Stephens wrote in her powerful dissent, joined by Justices Yu and Gonzalez, the rest of the Court's interpretation of the SAPO law "ignores the reality that experiencing a sexual assault is itself a reasonable basis for ongoing fear."
Especially in a time when the prevalence and trauma of sexual violence is moving increasingly into the spotlight, our courts owe it to survivors to educate themselves about what sexual assault survivors face every day. How they must live with trauma and fear, yet continue to go to work, to go to school, and to carry on. We all owe it to survivors to give them every legal tool available to attain safety from those who have assaulted them.
This may be the final decision in Megan's case, but it is not the end of our fight to fix this and other legal barriers to safety. For Megan, and for all survivors.
Our thanks to Megan's counsel, Riddhi Mukhopadhyay of Sexual Assault Legal Services, and our cooperating counsel, Kymberly Evanson of Pacifica Law Group - both of whom are Legal Voice board members! - as well as to our co-amici in this case: King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, Northwest Justice Project, and Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.