If you are being harassed, you need to decide on the best way to get legal protection. The type of relationship between you and the person harassing you, your age and the type of harassment will determine what type of legal protection you can ask for, and what you have to prove to get it.
Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state. Harassment is generally defined as “a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety.
Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim, and results in a hostile environment for the victim.
Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.” (see https://definitions.uslegal.com/h/harassment/ )
Harassment, and Aggravated Harassment, can be in the first or second degree.
If you are facing menacing activities such as threats, stalking, and physical harm, then you are enduring Criminal Harassment. Criminal Harassment is determined by state laws.
States may vary on how they define criminal harassment, but, in all states, you need to show that the following elements are present to successfully bring a criminal harassment suit:
- 1. The defendant acted intentionally.
- 2. The actions were repetitive.
- 3. The actions caused credible threat to the safety of yourself and/or your family.
Stalking is a type of Criminal Harassment.
Some states separate stalking from harassment offenses, while other states include harassment and stalking under a general statute. Ensure you know what the situation is in your state.
Cyberstalking entails the use of electronic devices to harass or stalk a single person or a group. Cyberharassment is electronic harassment that is similar to cyberstalking, but does not involve physical threats.
It relies on the same methods of defamation, torture, and control of a single person or group. Cyberbullying typically refers to internet bullying among minors, and often includes harassing behavior.
In civil harassment cases, you can bring a civil suit claiming the harassment has resulted in discrimination. Civil harassment suits are very common in Workplace Discrimination cases (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
States and local governments have also enacted laws that protect employees from workplace discrimination. Sexual harassment cases come under Civil Harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination recognized under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Housing Discrimination cases are a third type of Civil Harassment. The Fair Housing Act protects individuals’ housing rights. In addition to the Fair Housing Act, state and local laws also protect victims of housing discrimination.
Intent of the harasser to make you feel frightened, intimidated or harassed is always tricky to prove so evidence must be gathered. Record any calls where you make it clear that the person’s behavior is having deleterious effects, keep copies of written communication that establishes intent.
Try To Resolve The Issue Without Making It Legal
Try to solve the problem through dialogue or written communication. Put things in writing because any written communication can serve as proof that you tried to resolve the matter if you end up having to take legal action.
For example, if you are the victim of in-person stalking, write a ‘cease and desist’ letter and send it to the person that is stalking you. Demand an immediate stop to all harassing actions.
If someone is stalking you online via social media platforms and chat rooms, report that person. In employment discrimination cases, you have to exhaust administrative remedies by first bringing the case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The same situation applies to housing discrimination cases. In such cases, you need to file a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Get A Restraining Order
Consider filing a restraining order. This is especially important in situations involving domestic violence. While a restraining order is a civil remedy, violating it may result in criminal punishment.
Go to court and ask for a form to fill and submit with the court. Supply them with some evidence and make sure to fill the form correctly.
The court may call you and the harasser to court for a hearing. You will get a temporary restraining order until the evidence has been assessed and a permanent restraining order granted. Get an attorney to assist if the case gets complicated.
File A Harassment Order
Call or visit the police to file a Harassment Order. The police may pay the harasser a visit. If they don’t, they will certainly be more inclined to do so the next time you contact them because there is now a file.
There are no fees for filing a harassment order. The judge may possibly order the respondent to pay any court costs.
However, if the judge finds that any false statements were made in the petition and the request for the order was made in ‘bad faith’, the judge may order you to pay court filing fees.
File Charges: Prosecutor
The police will contact a prosecutor. Prosecutors have the final say when it comes to filing charges. Generally speaking, a victim cannot press charges nor force an unwilling prosecutor to file charges.
The prosecutor, exercising ‘prosecutorial discretion’, has the final say. Prosecutors are attorneys employed or contracted by federal, state, and local governments to prosecute suspected criminal offenders on behalf of the community they represent.
Prosecutors may decline to press charges because they think it unlikely that a conviction will result. Legally admissible evidence, sufficient to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, is necessary.
If the evidence isn’t there (or likely to be suppressed before trial), proceeding with charges would be futile.
If your prosecutor does not want to press charges you could try using a “writ of mandamus.” A private person may seek this writ, which asks for a court order directing an official to perform a duty that the official is under a legal obligation to perform.
You could hire an attorney to prosecute the suspect if you live in one of the few jurisdictions that allow private prosecution. See the Nolo article, Filing A Criminal Complaint.
If your prosecutor sees that a conviction is possible, the harasser will be asked to come to court and your prosecutor will press charges on them.
Depending on your allegations, and the facts regarding the act(s) of harassment, harassment can be charged as a Gross Misdemeanor or as a Felony.
Municipal and District courts handle Gross Misdemeanor Harassment charges. Harassment charges on a Felony level are handled in Superior Court.
Before deciding what to charge the defendant with, courts take into consideration several factors, including previous charges and whether the defendant was violating a restraining order.
A harassment charge is brought against the perpetrator by your city, if the harassment is within city limits, or by the state. At this point, the perpetrator becomes the defendant and should get a defence attorney.
If they don’t plead guilty, you may have to attest for yourself in court. Hire an attorney if you haven’t already.
Resolving a Charge of Harassment
There are three different ways to resolve a Gross Misdemeanor Harassment charge:
- Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement (PDA).
- Compromise of Misdemeanor.
- If the defendant does not want to resolve the harassment charge through a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement or Compromise of Misdemeanor, the matter is set for trial.
- At trial, the defendant has the right to require that the prosecutor proves every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
There are four different ways to resolve a Felony Harassment charge:
- Felony Diversion.
- Charges dropped. If drugs involved, the defendant can take matters to Drug Court and possibly get the charges dropped.
If mental health issues influenced the criminal act, the defendant can take matters to the Behavioral Health Court and possibly get the charges dropped
- Curtail the Felony Level Harassment to a Misdemeanor Level Harassment in exchange for a plea.
- The defendant can set the matter for trial and require the prosecutor to prove all elements of the harassment charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Court: Verdict and Sentencing
If your harasser is found guilty the court will sentence your harasser.