Text harassment is a form of harassment involving the use of text messaging services. Harassers can use a number of tactics including flooding the victim with text messages and sending abusive or threatening messages. This form of harassment often accompanies dating violence, bullying, or sexual harassment in the workplace. There are legal steps available for dealing with text harassment and the process usually starts with filing a police report to document the harassment.
Texting technology allows people to send brief written messages that can be delivered to a phone or another mobile device. One problem with such services is that it is possible to spoof them, allowing someone to send harassing texts without being traced. People also usually carry their phones with them at all times and leave them on at night, providing numerous windows of opportunity for a harasser. Many phone companies only offer an option of blocking texting entirely rather than blocking messages from specific senders, so the only way to get the messages to stop is to not receive texts at all, which may not be feasible for some people.
One method of text harassment simply involves sending hundreds of messages a day, sometimes with the assistance of a service that can schedule texts to be delivered at a very high rate. The messages can vary in content and tone. Other harassers may opt to send occasional abusive messages. Tactics can include sending messages at odd hours or timing the delivery of texts for a time when the harasser knows that the victim cannot afford to be distracted.
If people are experiencing text harassment, they should document the texts and submit a police report. This alerts law enforcement to the fact that harassment is occurring. If there is an existing restraining order forbidding contact, the police may use the report as grounds for bringing the harasser into court for violation of the restraining order. Police reports can also be used to file complaints with the government authority that oversees telecommunications and with the phone company.
Options for handling text harassment can include deactivating text functions, as well as changing a phone number and keeping the new number as confidential as possible. These options may not appeal to people experiencing harassment because they may have reasons to keep their phone numbers or to keep texting enabled. If a phone company offers selective text or phone number blocking, this is the easiest and most direct solution.
What Can the Police Do About Harassing Texts?
Cybercrimes like harassment over text are a relatively new area of the law. Although most states have laws to address these crimes, the seriousness with which they are viewed can vary from state to state. Police officers can only pursue a text harassment charge to the extent of the laws they are bound by. If you are a victim of text harassment, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with the laws pertaining to this crime in your state.
Additionally, some police departments may not have the expertise or resources to be effective in dealing with text harassment, while others may have a sophisticated cybercrimes unit adept at pursuing offenders.
You should expect an officer to follow these common procedures:
- Listen to your complaint
- Peruse your evidence
- Assist you in filing a police report
- Inform you of your next steps
Especially if your harasser's identity is unknown, you should be assigned to a detective who will be in charge of investigating your case. Police detectives have the ability to contact entities such as your cell phone provider and compel them to reveal information that cannot legally be revealed to an individual.
How To File Harassment Charges for Texting
The initial onus is on you to show that harassment is occurring. You should arrive at the police department armed with as much evidence as you can compile. If the authorities determine that what you are experiencing can be deemed harassment, you can request to file charges. Sufficient evidence will also provide support for further legal action such as filing a request for a restraining order against your harasser. As soon as you recognize that you are being harassed, you should begin to follow the steps below:
1. Ask the Offender To Stop
Authorities need to see that you have taken steps on your own to handle the situation. You can provide this proof by making a single clear and concise request to the offender to stop harassing you.
2. Cease All Communication
It is understandable to have the impulse to engage with your harasser and defend yourself against their attacks, but doing so can have negative consequences. It can escalate the situation and provide an incentive for the offender to continue the harassment. It can also weaken your case if it appears that you retaliated with reciprocal harassment.
3. Preserve Your Evidence
It is tempting to delete harassing texts, especially if they are offensive or threatening, but you must avoid doing so. Keep all communication from the harasser stored on your phone by locking each message, including your request that they cease contact. Additionally, back up your evidence by taking screenshots or pictures of the texts. It is advisable to contact your phone provider and request copies of your cell phone usage records as well. You should print out two hard copies of all evidence so that you have a hard copy to provide to the police and one to keep for yourself.
4. Communicate Harmful Effects
Law enforcement officials are more likely to respond quickly to your complaint if you can show that the harassment has caused significant harm. If the offending party is texting so often that it affects your job, that is more than a simple annoyance. If you deal with mental health or stress-related disorders, text harassment can cause higher levels of distress for you than others. It also increases the seriousness of an offender's actions if you can show that he or she is aware of the harm being caused.
Can You Get Arrested for Harassment Over Text?
Harassment of any kind is against the law and can result in the filing of charges and ensuing arrest. Depending on the severity of the harassment and the harm it caused, the legal consequences will vary. A person found guilty of text harassment may face only misdemeanor charges and minimal jail time if the harassment was minor. Individuals with a documented history of harassment or those already under a restraining order are likely to receive harsher judgments. If it is established that the person being harassed was targeted due to their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other issues of identity, the offender can be charged with a high-felony resulting in serious legal consequences and a lengthy period of incarceration.
As incidents of digital harassment and cyberbullying have increased, law enforcement personnel have started to take these behaviors very seriously. There have been cases in which cyberbullying or harassment has led to victims taking their own lives and resulted in charges of manslaughter for the perpetrators.