What Is the Meaning of Harassment in Massachusetts? 

Woman being harassed by man in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, harassment is defined under General Laws Chapter 258E as three or more acts aimed at a specific person that are intended to cause, and do in fact cause, fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property. These acts could include, but are not limited to, threats, physical violence, or property damage. The intent is a key element, meaning the perpetrator must have a willful and malicious desire to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress.

Understanding Legal Definitions and Requirements

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 258E, harassment must involve three or more separate acts such as:

  • threatening behavior,
  • assault, or
  • willful property damage.

These acts should show a knowing pattern of conduct that targets a specific person. To qualify as harassment, these acts must also cause fear or distress in a reasonable person under similar circumstances.

Filing for a Harassment Prevention Order

If you’re experiencing harassment, the first legal step is filing for a Harassment Prevention Order. This court order requires your harasser to stop their actions and can provide immediate relief. It’s important to document each incident meticulously, noting:

  • dates,
  • times, and
  • the nature of the harassment.

In the Application, you’ll describe the harassing behavior. You’ll file that with the civil clerk. You’ll be told to go into the courtroom and wait to have your case called.

On the same day you file your Application, you’ll have an ex-parte hearing for a Temporary Harassment Prevention Order. Ex-parte simply means that there will be only one party, which is you, testifying. Your harasser won’t know to be there that day. If the judge is convinced, they will issue a Temporary Harassment Order that is valid for 10 days.

To extend your Order, you need to go back to court on the 10th day for a 2-party hearing. Your harasser will have been served a copy of the Temporary Harassment Prevention Order and notice of the hearing. They have the right to attend the hearing and address the court.

When you go to this hearing, make sure you bring all the evidence you want the judge to consider. You want to document the harassing behavior as clearly as possible. Helpful items include:

  • text messages,
  • emails,
  • voicemail messages, and
  • live witnesses.

You have to convince the judge by a “preponderance of the evidence”, that simply means it’s more likely than not, that you have been the victim of harassment. If you’re successful, the judge will extend your Order. Orders are usually extended for one year.

Protection Through Abuse Prevention Orders

Another type of Restraining Order is an Abuse Prevention Order. It can also help in combating harassment. This type of Order is only available if your harasser is a family or household member or someone you have been in a significant dating relationship.

Criminal Charges
and Consequences

Persistent harassment can lead to criminal charges. If the court finds a true threat or physical harm, criminal harassment charges may be filed, which can result in serious consequences including jail time, especially with subsequent offenses. These charges affirm that the state takes harassment seriously, particularly when there is a fear of imminent serious physical harm.

Role of Electronic Communications

In today’s digital age, harassment often occurs via electronic communications, including:

  • text messages,
  • social media posts, and
  • emails.


Massachusetts law recognizes that electronic devices can be used maliciously, and it adapts its harassment laws to include these modern forms of communication. You should save all related communications as evidence.

Help Getting a Restraining Order in Massachusetts

If you’d like help getting a Restraining Order without paying an expensive attorney, we can help. With our Legal Coaching we can walk you through every step to make sure you’re ready for your hearing. The first thing to do is see if you qualify for a Massachusetts Restraining Order. Click on the link below to see if you qualify for either type of Restraining Order.

Your Rights Under the
First Amendment

While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, it does not shield malicious conduct that constitutes harassment. Massachusetts courts balance these rights carefully, ensuring that harassment laws do not infringe on lawful expression while protecting individuals from abuse and distress.

In order for speech to count as harassment, it must fall into one of two categories:

  1. Fighting words, or
  2. True threats.


Fighting words are face-to-face personal insults that are likely to cause a violent reaction causing a breach of the peace.

True threats are statements that frighten or intimidate you into believing that the speaker will cause you physical harm.

Seeking Compensation: Monetary Damages

Victims of harassment can also seek monetary damages through civil lawsuits. This compensation can cover any costs incurred due to the harassment, including:

  • medical expenses,
  • property damage, and
  • emotional distress.


Legal advice can significantly enhance your chances of receiving appropriate compensation.

Empowering Yourself
with Knowledge

Understanding your rights under Massachusetts law is the first step towards protecting yourself from harassment. With the right information and resources, you can take decisive action to safeguard your well-being and secure peace of mind. Remember, harassment is not only a violation of your peace but also a legal issue that the courts can address.

Legal Disclaimer

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and receive tailored guidance.

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