Verbal harassment is language that is directed at another person that causes that person harm, typically in an emotional or psychological sense. Calling a person names, making him or her feel useless, or otherwise diminishing a person's self-worth can all be forms of verbal harassment. This type of harassment is recognized as a serious offense, but unlike physical forms of harassment, it is very difficult to collect evidence that attests to the existence of verbal abuse. Recording the abuse or finding witnesses may be the only solution to the problem if a verbal harassment case must be pursued.
Interpersonal activities usually involve communication, and most societies have certain rules that govern what types of communication are appropriate in any situation. Harassment of the verbal type flaunts these rules and uses words to injure a target victim. Most victims recognize that the words themselves are not harming them, but the fact that the abuser feels that he or she has a right to speak to the victim this way is often even more damaging. The reasons that this type of harassment is effective even when threats are not made are complex, but it is safe to say that the repetitive nature of the abuse makes it particularly disheartening for the victim.
Most workplaces and other institutions have rules about this type of harassment that outline measures that can be taken to punish the abuser. When verbal harassment occurs outside a workplace, though, it can be difficult to prosecute the perpetrator. It is easier to reduce the harassment when it occurs in a specific form, like over the telephone, or when it involves actual threats of violence. Usually, the abuser can be punished with a restraining order that limits the type of communication he or she may have with the victim.
What types of language constitute verbal harassment varies by area and culture, and even within the same city two different people might have two very different ideas about what constitutes appropriate speech. For example, in some cultures it is common for superiors to disparage workers in aggressive ways, while in others, this behavior would be considered unacceptable. Even language that might be meant to be inclusive, such as certain diminutives or racially loaded names, can have different effects on different listeners. For these reasons, it is important to communicate discomfort to the person someone believes is speaking in a harassing manner, as he or she may be doing so with perfectly good intentions. Often a solution to verbal harassment is as simple as explaining why the words are hurtful and asking the person to stop.