When text messages are sent from an unwanted party, they may rise to the level of abuse. They may be illicit messages from a co-worker or threats of violence from an ex-boyfriend. Restraining orders are meant to stop such harassment, and the recipient of scary or unwanted texts is entitled to seek this protection just as much as a person who receives these types of messages in person or by phone.
Harassment and Domestic Violence
Although states define harassment differently, it generally includes stalking, abuse or threats of abuse, and sexual assault. Harassment may also be in the form of repeated unwanted attention and communication from someone the victim has not dated or has no close family ties to, such as a co-worker, roommate, neighbor or friend. Domestic violence includes these same and similar behaviors as well as intentionally making the victim reasonably fear for her safety or that of another. Domestic violence is distinguished from harassment in that it involves closely related persons, such as current or former spouses or intimate and domestic partners, close family members, persons who currently or previously dated, and persons who currently or previously lived together in a romantic relationship.
Text messages can be characterized as harassment or domestic violence based on the nature of the messages being sent, frequency and relationship between sender and recipient. For example, if a person is repeatedly sending sexually explicit and lewd texts to another person and the recipient has made it clear to the sender that she does not wish to have contact with the sender, the sender has engaged in harassment. If the recipient is a close family member or romantic interest, past or present, the behavior is more likely to be classified as domestic violence.
Restraining orders, also known as protective orders, are court orders that prohibit another person from engaging in certain behaviors, such as stalking, harassment, issuing threats, and physical or sexual assault. A restraining order can also ban the offender from communicating with the victim, including through text messages. This is known as a no contact order and it is often included within restraining orders. Restraining orders can also prohibit an offender from coming within a certain distance of the victim; if the offender lives in the same residence, such as family members, the order can require him to move out.
Obtaining an Restraining Order
Since text messages can be characterized as harassment or domestic violence in many states, the recipient is eligible to apply for a restraining order. Although procedures vary between states, an order can typically be obtained by filing a petition with the local court. Typically, the offender must be notified of the petition and a hearing is scheduled on the matter, at which time the victim must describe the offender's acts. If the court agrees with the victim and considers the offender's behavior harassment or domestic violence, a restraining order will be granted. In many cases, particularly when the risk of harm is great, emergency or temporary restraining orders can be issued the same day as the application. These orders typically last for a short duration, usually a week, until the follow-up hearing takes place where the offender is present. If the court finds the circumstances warrant it, the temporary restraining order is usually made permanent.