Email harassment is usually understood to be a form of stalking in which one or more people send consistent, unwanted, and often threatening electronic messages to someone else. There isn’t always an exact definition of what an message has to look or sound like in order to be harassing. It’s usually a matter of circumstance, since what one person finds offensive or harmful may not actually come off that way to someone else. This sort of harassment is frequently fueled by soured romance, workplace gossip, or school bullying, and is often only amplified through social media networks and connections. Some places have laws against email harassment, but not all do, and even in localities where these sorts of messages are illegal the threshold is usually very high. Simply sending unwanted mail isn’t usually something that can be punished, but a continued pattern of threats or menacing messages sometimes can be.
What makes an unwanted email message “harassing” is often a matter of personal opinion and individual reaction, though in most cases this sort of mail is sent with the intention of intimidating, frightening, or otherwise bothering the recipient. Usually the contents are personal to the recipient, but they can also include things like inappropriate jokes or other offensive material that may be sexual in nature or otherwise discriminating. While this form of harassment is frequently a repetitive act, it can sometimes result from a single transmission if it is sent with malicious intent or if the material is potentially damaging to the victim.
The most frequent instances of email harassment occur in domestic disputes, usually when one person leaves the relationship and the other becomes disgruntled. The rejected person may send a series of emails that are threatening, spiteful, and intimidating. Sometimes, though, even emails intended to entice the other person to return to the relationship can seem harassing even if they aren’t otherwise offensive in their content. In these cases, the biggest question is whether they cause significant distress to the recipient for any reason.
Correspondence in this category frequently vacillates between emotions. The scorned lover may pledge undying devotion in one email, which may be followed by violent statement or even threats of suicide in others. It’s also common for messages like this to be accompanied by other forms of intrusive behavior. Repeated phone calls, unwanted gifts, and visits to the target’s home or office may escalate feelings of impending danger or invasion of privacy.
This scenario can also stem from a desire to defame someone’s character. Inappropriate photographs or private information may be sent to a victim’s coworkers, peers, family, or friends in an effort to cause embarrassment or humiliation. This is particularly common in school settings, usually as a form of bullying. There have also been occasions in which a public online forum was used to entice others to make contact with the victim. In these cases, the culprit may post a phone number or other identifiable information about the target.
Impact of Social Media
Social networking websites are a frequent channel for a unique, often detrimental, form of electronic harassment. This doesn’t always come in the form of an email, but it sometimes does &mdash and the two often go hand in hand in any event. Sometimes, forged or bogus messages are sent to a recipient who believes the communication is actually coming from someone else. It often occurs to make the victim feel comfortable divulging personal information, in part because he or she thinks he or she is speaking to someone who is trusted. This form of harassment usually affects more than one person because both parties, the one who receives the email and the one whose identity is forged, are both victims.
Legal Ramifications and Consequences
Harassment, including email harassment, is illegal in many jurisdictions. Actually meeting the legal definition and threshold can be something of a challenge, though. Different states, countries, and localities have different definitions of cyberstalking and cyberharassment. Sometimes emails need to contain specific threats, and other times they need to reach a certain number or be ongoing for a set amount of time. Usually their content must be objectionable on a general level, too, not just offensive to the recipient.
People who want to stop receiving harassing emails don’t necessarily have to prove that the messages are in violation of the law in order to get them to stop, though. Many jurisdictions allow for restraining orders and no-contact orders that can work to effectively end the communications without actually calling those communications illegal in and of themselves.