What Is a Harassment Order in Massachusetts?

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A Harassment Prevention Order in Massachusetts is a legal injunction issued by a court to protect individuals from harassment. It can be requested by someone experiencing three or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at causing fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property. This order prohibits the harasser from contacting or abusing the victim, and from coming within a certain distance of the victim’s residence or workplace. It is available to anyone regardless of their relationship to the harasser, differentiating it from a domestic violence restraining order which requires a specific type of relationship between the involved parties.

Understanding Harassment Prevention Orders in Massachusetts

A harassment prevention order is a civil order issued by a Massachusetts court to protect individuals from harassment by a specific person. Unlike traditional restraining orders that typically apply to household members or individuals in a close relationship, harassment prevention orders can be obtained against anyone engaging in harassment, including but not limited to, a family member, acquaintance, coworker, or even a stranger.

Harassment is legally defined as three or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, physical harm, or property damage. This includes stalking, sexual assault, or a pattern of threatening communications through texts, phone calls, or social media.

The Legal Process for Obtaining a Harassment Prevention Order

To obtain a harassment prevention order, you must file a petition in the appropriate court – this could be the district court, juvenile court, or family court, depending on the circumstances. The process includes filling out a detailed application describing the incidents of harassment and may require providing evidence such as messages, emails, or witness statements.

Once the petition is filed, a judge may issue a temporary order based on the information provided, often without your harasser being present (ex parte). This temporary order is typically set to last until a full court hearing can be scheduled, usually within business days, where both parties can present their case. If the judge finds the evidence meets the standard of preponderance of the evidence, an extended order may be issued.

Protections Provided
and Limitations

A harassment prevention order offers several protections, such as:

  • prohibiting the harasser from contacting or abusing the victim,
  • requiring them to stay a certain distance away from the victim’s home or workplace, and
  • potentially ordering them to avoid any form of direct or indirect communication with the victim.

However, it’s important to understand the limitations of these orders. While they serve as a strong legal deterrent, they cannot physically stop someone from approaching you. Victims should also consider additional safety measures and remain vigilant even after an order is granted.

Enforcement and Violations

Violating a harassment prevention order is a criminal offense in Massachusetts and can result in arrest, criminal charges, and potentially significant criminal penalties, including time in the House of Corrections. If you have a harassment prevention order against someone and they violate it, you should contact the local police department immediately.

Extensions and Modifications

Harassment prevention orders are typically issued for a specific length of time, often up to a year. However, if there’s a continuing need for protection, the victim can request an extension. If circumstances change, either party can file a motion to modify the terms of the order, but any changes must be approved by a judge.

Costs of an
Abuse Prevention Order

Filing for a harassment prevention order in Massachusetts is free. Once the temporary, or ex parte, order is signed, the court will give it to the police department to serve on your harasser. You don’t have to pay for a constable or sheriff.

We believe it is in your best interest to have an experienced, affordable attorney representing you throughout all the steps in getting a Harassment Prevention Order. At Afford Law, our fees are based on your income, so the less you earn, the less you pay. We try to make ourselves as affordable as possible to as many people as possible. We want to make sure that your voice is heard in the courtroom.

Additional Resources and Support

Beyond legal protection, victims of harassment may need additional support, such as:

  • counseling,
  • security advice, or
  • financial assistance for medical expenses or loss of earnings due to harassment.

Various organizations offer resources and services to help victims recover and rebuild their lives after experiencing harassment.

Safeguarding Your Rights
and Wellbeing

Massachusetts law provides various legal mechanisms to protect you from harassment. Understanding your rights and the legal processes involved in obtaining a harassment prevention order is the first step toward safeguarding your safety and wellbeing. If you’re experiencing harassment, know that you’re not alone, and there are legal and support resources available to help you navigate this challenging time.

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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