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What Is Text Harassment?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

FAQ on Text Harassment

What constitutes text harassment?

Text harassment involves repeatedly sending unwanted messages via text or messaging platforms, with the intent to intimidate, threaten, or upset the recipient. It can include a range of behaviors such as sending threatening messages, spamming someone's phone with texts, or sending abusive or derogatory comments. Legal definitions may vary, but the key elements are persistence, lack of consent, and the impact on the victim's well-being.

How can I tell if I'm being harassed through text?

You might be experiencing text harassment if you receive persistent messages that make you feel threatened, anxious, or distressed, and you've asked the sender to stop without success. Harassment can also include messages that are obscene, threatening, or part of a pattern of stalking. If the communication is unwanted and has a negative effect on your life, it could be considered harassment.

What should I do if I'm a victim of text harassment?

If you're a victim of text harassment, document the messages, including dates and times. Inform the sender clearly that their communication is unwanted and ask them to stop. If the harassment persists, contact your local authorities or legal counsel for advice. In some jurisdictions, you can also report the harassment to your mobile carrier or use in-built blocking features on your device to prevent further messages.

Can text harassment be prosecuted legally?

Yes, text harassment can be prosecuted legally. Many countries have laws against cyberstalking and online harassment, which can include text messages. The specific charges and penalties vary by jurisdiction, but they can range from misdemeanors to felonies depending on the severity and nature of the harassment. Victims should consult with law enforcement or legal professionals to explore their options.

Are there any preventative measures I can take to avoid text harassment?

To reduce the risk of text harassment, be cautious about sharing your phone number and personal information online. Use privacy settings on social media to control who can contact you. Most smartphones and messaging apps also offer features to block numbers and messages from unknown or unwanted contacts. Additionally, educating yourself and others about respectful digital communication can help foster a safer online environment.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon991827 — On Jul 20, 2015

A guy I briefly dated turned out to be Creepy Stalker Dude. When I told him I was no longer interested in seeing him due to his clingy, smothering ways, he sent me a barrage of obsessive texts. I told him to knock it off, and he did - for a while. Now he's doing it again, but only here and there, once or twice a week. I'd rather not change my number, as it's important for my work, but I may have to. This guy is a real wacko.

By anon952257 — On May 20, 2014

Web sites are making this even easier. I have been harassed by an ex-boyfriend's ex for over a year now. I block the number but she gets a new one in a matter of minutes. Sites like this allow free text and calling and unlimited phone number changes! It is crazy! People are crazy!

By goodbye — On Oct 29, 2013

Here's an idea: If the text message sent are not threats against you, simply ignore. If all they have is your cell phone and not your address, chances are you are safe. Ignoring them may cause them to eventually stop. What person out there is going to spent their entire lifetime texting someone that doesn't respond to their texts?

By anon345463 — On Aug 19, 2013

Yeah, it's crazy. A 60 year old woman keeps harassing my son who is 35. I don't understand how my son even got involved with her sexually. It's crazy but now he is with a girl who has changed her life for the good. He is going to church and got saved, but now the other lady will not stop harassing my son through texting. She's crazy.

By anon344210 — On Aug 06, 2013

I find it amazing that my old cell phones always displayed the number a text was from, but it appears the manufacturers have "corrected the problem." It appears you now cannot view who sent a text before opening it. Nice how the phone manufacturers and carriers are promoting text harassment, isn't it.

By anon341590 — On Jul 13, 2013

My ex boyfriend won't leave me alone. I blocked him on Facebook but he keeps texting me. I already had to change my number because my other ex and his friends wouldn't stop threatening me.

This is insane. He's obsessed with me. He's not threatening or anything but he just won't leave me alone. He is crazy. I made a huge mistake when I dated him.

By anon318804 — On Feb 09, 2013

Grandmas are usually sweet old ladies with all kinds of advice to give -- except mine! She has done nothing but blow my phone up. I had to block her from my facebook account. She is using foul language to me and making things up about me, so I recently moved out of her house because she attacked me verbally and physically.

She basically held me hostage in my own room until I would fight her to get out the door. She is 59 years old and weighs 300 pounds. And not brittle at all. She uses her body weight and fists.

I work third shift, so I got "home" early in the morning. That's when it began. Well now she is texting me that I attacked her. Should I file harassment charges on her for fear that she will charge me? She works as a nurse at a jail, so I don't know if she has an advantage.

By anon289475 — On Sep 04, 2012

My boyfriend's brother-in-law posted a comment under my instagram photo asking how my second pregnancy was going and if I'd gotten an abortion yet. Is this illegal to say? Can he get into trouble?

By anon289072 — On Sep 02, 2012

There is a sheriff's deputy who has posted his phone number on craigslist under rooms for rent. When you call him about a room for rent, he hangs up on you instead of saying, "The room has been rented, sorry." And when he answers the first call he does not identify himself as a deputy. Then he calls you an idiot and a tweaker and tells you that he googled your number. Then he goes on about how you are misusing a police line when you are asking him to please leave you alone and to stop.

He refuses to stop texting you when you are asking him to please stop and then he accuses you of harassment. Beware of this cyberbully deputy. He has probably done this to other girls before and he thinks that every girl who calls him is a tweaker but he has surrounded himself with tweakers by living in eureka. Disgusting.

By anon286901 — On Aug 22, 2012

My parents were supposed to come to my college and sign my financial aid papers and they didn't. I asked like two weeks in advance for them to come they said no. The day of my appointment they started sending me messages on my phone saying some pretty mean things using inappropriate language. As I may remind you I'm their child. Well, this continued and I asked them to stop it, but it still continues. I told them one last time if they don't stop I will get them for harassment. Is this a matter of harassment or should I just forget about it?

By wow1 — On Aug 21, 2012

I broke up with my ex-girlfriend. When I told her I wanted her to move out, she filed charges on me. She flooded my phone with 167 texts, not including the voicemail and phone calls. In the text and voicemails she says that she only did it so I would throw her and her kids out. In the voicemail, she says she lied to the police, and in the text she says she lied to the police. The police and prosecutor have all the evidence but still haven't dropped the case. I have to go to a pti hearing. Can they drop it then or what can I expect?

By ozzy03 — On Aug 15, 2012

My grandson has been harassed by the county sheriff for months. One deputy told a person at 7-11 to get a trespass order on him, except she said he was not causing any problems.

They stopped him at his girlfriend's house and told him the next time he saw him, he was going to shoot him. Last week he went with his girlfriend to the store and she came to my house and told me it was her parents who had the order. He hid outside my house with a bullet proof vest on. What can we do?

By animegal — On Jun 27, 2011

At the high school I went to text harassment was very much an extension of cyber bullying. Often kids would target one person and spam them with cruel messages and nasty photos.

I think that in a case like this the person being bullied really needs to step up and report the texts to not only their parents but also the school authorities. Technology is constantly changing and people have to know how it can be used to harm others.

If you have a teen and they have the evidence of bullying right on their phone, use it as evidence. Often schools take this kind of harassment seriously and the students doing it could easily be suspended or expelled.

By popcorn — On Jun 26, 2011

If you want to avoid trouble like text harassment it is pretty easy to change your phone number or to get an unlisted number as soon as you sense a problem. If the person sending the messages is just doing it to bother you because they have a vendetta then it should be pretty easy to avoid them.

Now, the problem I think comes when text harassment becomes an outlet for a stalker. Often people feel that with new technology they are harder to trace but you can get a restraining order just from the texts if they contain threats and inappropriate material. If you suspect the person doing it will keep harassing you in other ways, the text messages can be a good way to get a retraining order.

By oasis11 — On Jun 25, 2011

@Sneakers41 -Text harassment is very real and teenagers are the most susceptible. Receiving harassing text messages can really disrupt a kid’s school day. Many of these kids are using provocative pictures and sending them to others in order to embarrass the person. I think that there should be warning classes in middle school about what happens when you send provocative pictures of yourself to people that you think are your friends.

hey then send it to everyone and this is also a form of text harassment and the one that generally receives the sexually explicit pictures are charged with a felony because it is considered child pornography.

They say that about 25% of teenagers participate in this type of sexting that really has a lot of potential for harassment as well as jail time. Maybe there should be a age requirement on texting like there is with alcohol because a lot of young kids really don’t realize that they are make life long mistakes that will affect them as long as they live with one simple little text.

Many do not have the maturity to understand what can happen to them and they can ruin their future with just one text.

By sneakers41 — On Jun 25, 2011

@Icecream17 - I agree that that is the best way to avoid this because it must be really disturbing to have to read these harassing text messages and why would you want to ruin your day like that? I think that the text messaging laws that really need to be in place is the text messaging laws that do not allow people to text while they drive.

It is unbelievable when you think about the amount of people that do this while driving. To me that is the more severe texting offense and the general harassment laws should take care of text message harassment. I think that texting while driving should be a felony because you can not only kill yourself, but you can also kill an innocent person.

By icecream17 — On Jun 25, 2011

I personally don’t understand why there needs to be text message harassment laws. Harassment is harassment. It doesn’t matter if was through a text or made verbally, it is still illegal. I really never text message anyone because I rather talk to them over the phone.

I think that the easiest way to avoid text message harassment is to drop the text messaging service altogether on your phone. You really don’t need it, if you think about it. If the person wants to continue to harass you they will have to become more creative. I am sure most people would stop when they realize it is just too hard to harass somebody and they will move on.

That is what I would do.

By Mammmood — On Jun 25, 2011

@MrMoody - The situation you describe is not at all uncommon. I think, however, that most human resources departments provide some strict guidelines about workplace relationships, in order to avoid harassment lawsuits.

Companies who do so aren’t trying to restrict individual liberties. They just need to protect themselves as well against possible litigation. Again, I don’t know about your company by the HR manual should address these issues.

By MrMoody — On Jun 25, 2011

I’d like to offer a simple bit of advice to anyone who would like to avoid the charge of harassment in the workplace. No, it’s not, “Don’t do it.” That’s obvious.

What is not obvious is that a charge of sexual harassment can ensue when two co-workers develop a romantic relationship that later goes south.

This happened in one company that I worked at. To make a long story short, the female worker, who held a higher position, leveled a harassment complaint against the worker with whom she was having this fling. It was outside work hours, but when the relationship ended she felt threatened by his continued presence in the company and wanted him out, through no fault of his own.

I knew the guy, and he did nothing meriting the criteria of harassment. He did, however, resign.

So, in short-avoid workplace relationships, if you care about your job.

By NathanG — On Jun 25, 2011

@Charred - This is the first time that I’ve heard of text harassment. It makes sense when you think about it; harassment includes any attempted communication with another person that is unwanted, and so I suppose that would cover all technologies, including email harassment, harassing voice mails, etc.

I don’t know that there is a need for text harassment laws, however, as harassment is a pretty big umbrella term that would cover all these situations.

As to your point about blocking technology not existing, I agree that it’s only a matter of time before that will change.

However, there is recourse for people who are harassed. They should just call the phone company. I’m sure they can take appropriate action to track the harasser and tell him that his messages are no longer welcome.

By Charred — On Jun 25, 2011

I’m scratching my head here. I don’t understand why phone companies don’t have features that allow blocking of text messages from a certain sender.

After all, we can block incoming calls with current technology and text messages come in through the same line, so in principle we should be able to block harassing text messages from a certain number.

That’s the theory anyway, and I smell an opportunity for someone who can develop such a tool. It may be left to a third party provider who can develop a text blocker utility.

Further, I think that such a feature should have automatic text re-dial, so to speak, so that it can immediately send a message back to the sender to the effect, “I’m going to call the police if you keep doing this.”

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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