A discussion with Commissioner Jonathon Lack on the impact of domestic violence on mental health and the update to the Washington domestic violence statute to include coercive control in the definition of domestic violence.
By Karl Kafer, Medha Vadlamudi, Scott Burkholder, Manny Tse, Quan Thai, Sonica Sinoy, University of Washington Bothell School of Business
Photo credit: LinkedIn – Jonathon Lack
Content Warning: The following article contains descriptions that may be triggering to domestic abuse survivors.
Commissioner Jonathon Lack, a dedicated family and juvenile Court Commissioner at King County Superior Court, joined us from his office to talk with us about the impact domestic violence and coercive control can have on victims’ mental health. As we began our Zoom meeting, the ambiance seemed to transport us to his very environment. Despite it being 5:30 pm, he armed himself with a steaming cup of coffee from his comically large thermos, jokingly commenting on his night of paperwork ahead of him. Buzzing with productivity, or rather a jolt of caffeine, Commissioner Lack settled into his seat and greeted us with a heartwarming smile, ready to delve into our conversation.
What are some significant changes that have been made to [Washington] domestic violence laws in recent years?
JL: So a couple of years ago, the [Washington State] Legislature changed the rules. Everything, for the most part, is in Title 7.105 now under special proceedings, and people file a petition for a protection order. They mark what type of order they think it is. But then the judicial officer can issue any order that they feel is appropriate.
The second change is one that I advocated for a few years ago. That became part of the law, where you file a domestic violence protection order. It used to be that you had to file in the county in which you lived or the county in which you fled to.
If you lived in King County, you could file in King County. If you’re staying in a shelter in Snohomish County, you could file in Snohomish County. The dilemma of boundaries is that it is artificial. They’re kind of like race or gender. They’re artificial constructs of society. For example, Gold Bar is up on Highway Two.
[Suppose] you’re going up to Stevens Pass to go skiing. Gold Bar was in King County before this law was changed. If your spouse caused problems for you in the town of Gold Bar, you were required to file in the King County Superior Court, which meant you drove past the parking lots of five other courthouses to get to the courthouse you could file in. So the statute now says you can file in the county where you live. The county [where] you fled, where the domestic violence happened, or the nearest courthouse to you. If you [need] access to a car, it’s six buses and four and a half hours to get from Gold Bar to the King County Superior Court. That’s ridiculous. So that is the other change that is really valuable. Now you can get relief essentially anywhere in the state.
Why is it important to include coercive control (sustained pattern of controlling, threatening, or humiliating behavior) in the Washington State law on domestic violence?
JL: And so it’s just kind of this cycle which takes us back to the question about, is coercive control something that we should be dealing with? Yes, because if we can deal with it [coercive control] early…we’re in a sense preventing further crime.
What are some of the causes of domestic violence that you have seen in some of your cases before you?
JL: I would also say it’s generational if you’re familiar with the concept of adverse childhood experiences. Domestic violence is a function of the power and control wheel. One partner has control over another partner. There’s also one-off domestic violence where people are drunk and do something stupid. And so I think domestic violence is often associated with economic trauma, people losing their jobs, emotional trauma, finding out that your significant other has other significant others, for example.
What are some ways that we can help people recover from domestic violence?
JL: I think just being a friend is everything. My mother was a victim of domestic violence for years, and my brothers and I were exposed to it as children…And so there were friends of my mother that helped her get through this and help her. Her three kids get through that. So be a friend.
(Jonathan Lack shared another personal anecdote that emphasizes the importance of being there for those who need help)
JL: I had a coworker who called me up at 3 a.m. Because there’s two times I don’t answer my phone. I’m on the bench, or I’m dead. So at 3 a.m., she called and said, “I’ve got the kids in the car. My husband has punched me, and he threw one of the kids on the floor. Can I come to stay with you?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And she lived with me. For two and a half years, I slept on the couch in my house, and they slept in the beds up in the bedrooms, because they needed a place to live.
How could we as a community better serve victims of domestic abuse and prevent a cycle of it from happening?
JL: Just be a friend, and be aware. Be on the lookout for the kind of people who need assistance in your daily life. I think that’s the most important thing in terms of changes to the law. If I were going to make changes, it would be more judicial officers, more advocates, and not just advocates for the petitioners, but advocates for the respondents…[I]n Washington State, at the end of your one year protection order, you can file a petition for renewal. And those petition for renewals ask: did the other party comply with the terms of the order over the past year?…[T]hey [have a higher likelihood of] doing their [court ordered] drug testing because advocates were staying on them. Advocates for respondents are just as important as advocates for petitioners.
This article is a collaborative piece created by a group of University of Washington Bothell School of Business students from Professor Laura Umetsu’s Business Writing course. We want to extend our deepest thanks to Commissioner Lack for taking the time and patience to sit for this interview. Special thanks as well to Brodie Knopf for his assistance in the editing process.
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.
How you can help someone in crisis: https://nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/How-to-Help-Someone-in-Crisis
Or you can also visit:
If you want to learn more about what domestic violence is and what to look out for, visit
If you might be a victim of domestic violence, head here to learn about protection orders.