Harassment used to be public acts of bullying to which there were often witnesses. But texting technology has made it much easier for a bully to focus on a victim without anyone else even knowing about it. It took some time for law enforcement and prosecutors to figure out how to deal with cyberbullying and harassment via texting, but many are now up to speed and ready to help you.
Harassment traditionally means acting in a manner designed to annoy, provoke, threaten or otherwise cause another person emotional distress. In the law, the term harassment can refer to many different types of behavior that can lead to criminal punishment. State criminal laws make harassment illegal, including general harassment to specific forms of harassment, like cyberstalking and texting. Generally, criminal harassment involves a deliberate attempt to alarm, annoy or terrorize someone with targeted behavior. But not all annoying behavior is criminal harassment. Most laws specify that the behavior must constitute a credible threat to the person or their family. In most states, harassment can include telephone calls, emails, texting and other forms of communication.
Filing a Harassment Charge
Since harassment is a crime, you will need to get the police involved to charge someone. It's best to collect evidence, gathering hard copies of all of the texts chronologically. This helps police see the progression. If you have letters or other communications that supplement the texting, add them to the folder as well. Start by taking the packet to the police and officially filing a report. Tell the police that you are frightened and want to file charges. Alternatively, consider obtaining a restraining order against further texting or any type of communication to you by this individual. This type of order is obtained from the court, and usually you do not need an attorney to get one.
Punishment for Harassment
Harassment charges range from misdemeanors punished by less than a year in jail, to high-level felony charges. A person may be charged with a higher-level offense if he has been previously charged with a harassment or a domestic violence offense. Likewise, if someone continues to harass you after you obtain a restraining order telling them to stop, the prosecutor can charge a higher-level offense. Some laws also up the charge if the harassment targets you based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.
Note that criminal harassment is not a private civil case, but a crime brought by a prosecutor in the name of the state. So, even if you decide later to drop the charge, you may not affect the ongoing criminal action, and refusing to testify can get you into legal trouble.
Read More: What Is Considered Phone Harassment?
Keep copies of all harassing and bullying texts and bring them to the police to report what is going on. If the harassment continues, tell the detective in charge that you wish to file charges.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.