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King County allowing online protection orders for domestic abuse amid coronavirus crisis

The governor's Stay Home, Stay Healthy order may not be safe for survivors of abuse. King County has launched a new online tool to request protection orders.

SEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department said that between Feb. 29 and March 31, they saw a 21% increase in reported domestic violence compared to the same time frame from 2019.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order due to the coronavirus outbreak can be dangerous for victims of domestic abuse – and SPD adds the social distancing can magnify the feeling of isolation survivors may feel.

“Creating opportunities for people to file electronically has been something we should be doing in the city of Seattle,” said Colleen McIngalls, the program manager for the Protection Order Advocacy Program for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

RELATED: Overall crime is down in Washington amid coronavirus crisis, but domestic violence calls are up

McIngalls said her team has gone fully remote to allow those petitioning for a protection order to do so online.

“It was pretty much 100% of personnel service in our office,” she said.

Her office partnered up with Seattle-based LegalAtoms.com, which specializes in laws related to domestic violence and divorces to provide an online tool to apply for the protection order.

Mir Tariq is the CEO of LegalAtoms.com and he said he co-founded the company because he saw a big need for more technology and resources in law, particularly with domestic violence. He said the whole process should take about 20 minutes.

“They answer about 30 questions we have designed them to be very simple plain language. We have worked very hard to avoid legalese, or legal speak,” he said, “And next to every question, there is helpful notes we’ve gathered from lawyers.”

There is no cost to fill out the form, and Tariq said all who apply can get 20 minutes of a free consultation with a lawyer. He adds lawyers and non-profit organizations can set up a free profile through their site to offer their assistance.

Tariq says the e-filing tool is available for King County only, but he added they are working to roll it out for other counties around the state as well.

Washington State law says for a protection order to be served to the accused, it needs to be in person. McIngalls said they’re waiting on guidance from the State Supreme Court to see if delivering the order to the accused electronically – either through e-mail or on the phone –  could suffice given the circumstances of the coronavirus.

McIngalls adds that if the order involves removing weapons, or moving someone out of a home, authorities will still do that in person.

She said her team has worked to ensure survivors can apply for these orders safely, and noted though the response time isn’t as immediate as going into a courtroom, they’ll get a same or next-day response.

“We just really want people to know that we’re open, we’re here we’re listening, we want to assist you,” she said.

McIngalls adds that once the pandemic is over, she would like to see the online option remain.

Another resource is the Coalition for Ending Gender-Based Violence. They provide direct resources for survivors of abuse, sexual assault, and trafficking and have a list of local services to help.

Here are some other helpful resources if you or someone you know is dealing with abuse

King County Hotlines available 24/7:

Domestic Violence

Sexual Assault

 National Hotlines available 24/7: