Do Police Do Anything About Online Harassment in Massachusetts?

Harassed woman in Massachusetts looking at phone.

In Massachusetts, police take online harassment seriously. Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 43A, harassment is punishable by fines and imprisonment. This includes online behaviors that involve repeated communications aimed to intimidate, annoy, or alarm an individual. Victims can file for a Harassment Prevention Order, and if violated, law enforcement can take action. The local police’s capacity to address online harassment depends on the severity of the case and the evidence available. Victims are encouraged to document all instances of harassment to aid investigations.

Introduction to
Online Harassment

Online harassment encompasses a variety of actions using the internet and electronic communications to repeatedly target a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress. This harassment can occur through:

  • social media,
  • text messages,
  • electronic mail, and
  • instant messaging.

Massachusetts law recognizes the severe impacts of such behaviors and provides legal avenues to protect individuals and penalize perpetrators.

Legal Definitions and Scope of Online Harassment

What Constitutes Online Harassment?

In Massachusetts, online harassment is defined by a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person that seriously alarms or annoys that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. The use of electronic communication devices to perpetrate these acts makes them not just personal violations but criminal offenses under state law.

Forms of Online Harassment

Harassment can take many forms, including the repeated use of electronic means to send unsolicited, threatening messages, or the creation of web pages that mock, threaten, or malign an individual’s identity. These acts can disrupt the orderly operation of a school or workplace and create a hostile environment.

Massachusetts State Laws
on Harassment

Criminal Charges and Legal Process

Under Massachusetts General Laws (Chapter 265, Section 43A), perpetrators can face criminal harassment charges, leading to significant penalties including fines, prison time, or both. For subsequent offenses, the penalties can increase, reflecting the severity of repeated harassment.

Harassment Prevention Orders

Victims can seek an e-harassment prevention order from courts like the District Court or Boston Municipal Court. This order prohibits the abusive person from making any form of contact with the victim, whether directly or through electronic means.

Steps to Address
Online Harassment

Reporting to Local Law Enforcement

If you are experiencing online harassment, it’s crucial to report the behavior to your local police department. Provide all evidence of the harassment, such as screenshots of messages and logs of phone calls, which will support your criminal complaint.

Filing for a Harassment Prevention Order

A Harassment Prevention Order can give you some protection from the harassment you’re experiencing. It’s a court order that commands your harasser to stop this behavior. It can order them not to contact you and to stay away from you. 

You’ll have to file court documents explaining what is happening. On the same day you file, you’ll have an ex-parte hearing. That just means that you’re the only party testifying that day. If the judge is convinced an Order is necessary, a Temporary Harassment Prevention Order will issue. 

Temporary Harassment Prevention Order

2-Party Hearing

Your harasser may be present at your 2-party hearing. You will both have a chance to talk to the judge. Make sure you bring all the evidence you want the judge to see and hear. Bring any live witnesses as well if you want them to testify on your behalf.

Support and Resources

Additional Help Beyond the Law

Beyond legal actions, several organizations offer support and resources to victims of online harassment. These include counseling services and groups that help reinforce victims’ mental well-being and offer advice on digital security measures.

Importance of Community and Educational Support

Schools and workplaces should have clear procedures for the intervention and notification of bullying. Educational programs that highlight the legal and emotional consequences of online harassment are also vital in prevention efforts.

The Role of Technology in
Legal Evidence

Understanding the use of technology in both perpetrating and proving online harassment is key. Electronic evidence can be crucial in legal proceedings, and understanding how to properly preserve this information can make a significant difference in the outcome of a case.

Civil Lawsuits and
Monetary Damages

In some cases, victims of online harassment may pursue civil lawsuits against the perpetrator. This can result in monetary damages for emotional harm or any physical act that may have resulted from the harassment.

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.

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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