Harassment and death threats what are my rights?
Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I met a woman at a bar and dated her a few times. After I told her I did not want to see her again she started emailing me, texting me, and calling me with death threats and vulgar nasty harassment of the worst possible kind. I have asked her to stop, and I have stopped taking her calls. Now she has started following me and waiting around outside of my apartment. I am beginning to think my safety might be in jeopardy. What legal rights do I have to stop her harassment?”
What is harassment?
Harassment can include actions which are intended to cause emotional distress, annoy, threaten or provoke another person.
Although what constitutes criminal harassment varies by state, most states delineate between petty annoyances and true actions which cause “credible threats or fear for one’s safety.” Additionally, with the proliferation of electronic communications, some states have updated their cyberstalking laws making it illegal to stalk someone through internet, email or text messages.
Additionally, penalties vary for different types of harassing actions. For example, if you have been charged and convicted of domestic assault and there is a restraining order against you, if you harass your ex-wife you may be charged with a more severe charge than someone who is a first-time offender. Additionally, hate crimes and harassing someone who is considered a “protected class” could also be more serious. For example, harassment targeting someone because of their race or religious practice can lead to more serious charges.
What can you do if you are being harassed?
If you are the victim of harassment the first step is to contact the police. You will need to provide information to the police about this woman’s actions. Evidence for harassment can include proving the alleged offender did in fact communicate with you and that the communication harassed, annoyed, alarmed, or tormented you.
You did not give too many specifics about the types of communications that you are receiving, but actions that might qualify for harassment include threats of bodily harm, obscene conversation, incessant calling, repeated unsolicited communications, falsely reporting the death or serious injury of your child, or threatening to harm your family.
After reviewing the evidence, the police may decide to charge the offender under your state’s harassment or stalking laws. Also, depending on the seriousness and threat of the activity, they may have you petition the court for an order of protection against the offender.
Criminal penalties for harassment
Criminal penalties for harassment can vary by state. For example, in the State of Texas, you can be charged with harassment if you “write or e-mail someone with the intention of scaring, embarrassing, annoying, or tormenting them.”
A harassment charge in Texas is a Class B misdemeanor, which means you can be sent to jail for no more than 180 days and may be required to pay up to $2,000 in fines. A second harassment charge in Texas is a Class A misdemeanor which can result in up to one year in jail and fines up to $4,000.
Offenders may also be able to avoid jail time. For example, courts often offer probation for first-time offenders or may require some type of treatment such as anger management classes or sex offender evaluation or treatment.
Harassment can be elevated to stalking
Now, you mentioned that this woman is now stalking you. Some states may allow for harassment charges to be elevated to a more serious charge of stalking. For example, if the actions of this woman give you reasonable fear that she might kill or seriously injure you, the police may charge her with stalking rather than harassment.
If she is charged with stalking in Texas this is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.
Can I sue for harassment?
Although harassment and stalking are criminal offenses and should be reported to police, you may also have the right to file a personal injury claim against the offender. If you win your civil claim you may be entitled to monetary compensation for your pain and suffering and any monetary loss.
Stalking can be a serious offense. It does not matter that you are a man and the stalker is a woman. If you feel your safety is threatened, it’s time to contact the police and have them investigate your case.
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