What is Legally Considered Harassment in Massachusetts?

Woman crying at her computer due to harassment in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, harassment is legally defined as three or more acts aimed at a specific person that are willful and malicious, causing fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property. This can include threats, physical violence, property damage, or a pattern of conduct that seriously alarms or annoys the victim, with no legitimate purpose. The victim must have suffered significant emotional distress or fear of physical harm. Harassment prevention orders can be sought under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 258E if these criteria are met.

Understanding Criminal Harassment Charges in Massachusetts

What Is Considered Criminal Harassment?

In Massachusetts, harassment is not just an uncomfortable experience; it’s a series of acts that the courts take seriously. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 258E defines harassment as a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. This could range from persistent unwanted phone calls to threatening text messages.

To be classified as criminal harassment, the behavior must be willful, malicious, and targeted, causing fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property. Such actions include sending emails meant to torment or a barrage of instant messages designed to intimidate. It’s essential for you to demonstrate that the perpetrator had no legitimate purpose and that the conduct was, indeed, intended to cause fear or distress.

Harassment Prevention Order: A Shield Against Abuse

When harassment escalates, Massachusetts law allows for the pursuit of a Harassment Prevention Order, which is one type of Restraining Order. This civil order can offer protection from further harassment by legally forbidding the harasser from continuing their behavior.


To get this Order, you need to file specific forms with your local court. You’ll then go for a temporary hearing where you’ll be the only one testifying. The next step is a 2-party hearing where your harasser will be present and can tell their side of the story. If the Order is extended, it will probably be for one year.

The Massachusetts Courts and Abuse Prevention Order

Massachusetts courts take these matters into their hands with great care. An Abuse Prevention Order is similar to a Harassment Prevention Order. The big difference is that an Abuse Prevention Order can only be issued if your harasser is a family or household member or you are in a significant dating relationship with them. A Harassment Prevention Order can be issued regardless of your relationship.

Both Orders can be issued swiftly to prevent physical harm or further harassment, offering you peace of mind. It’s a powerful tool, not to be taken lightly, as it can have serious implications for both parties involved.

Gathering Evidence of Harassment

Building a case against a harasser requires meticulous documentation. Save every:

  • text message,
  • social media communication, or
  • photo

that can substantiate your claims. Keeping a detailed log with dates, times, and descriptions of the harassment can strengthen your position significantly.

The Importance of Evidence in Harassment Cases

Evidence is crucial in harassment cases. It transforms subjective feelings of distress into objective proof for the court. Whether it’s a phone call recording or a screenshot of a threatening email, every piece of evidence helps in proving a pattern of malicious conduct.

When Harassment Leads to Criminal Charges

Facing Criminal Harassment Charges in District Court

Should harassment escalate to criminal charges, you may find yourself in District Court or even Superior Court. Criminal harassment can lead to:

  • a criminal record,
  • jail time, and
  • monetary damages.

The gravity of these charges underscores the necessity of having a skilled criminal defense attorney at your side.

Violation of a Harassment Prevention Order

Once you have a Harassment Prevention Order, you have the full protection of the court. Although the Order is civil in nature, a violation of that order is a crime. If your harasser violates the Order, you should contact the police immediately. They can be arrested and charged with a violation. Ultimately, they may be sent to jail.

The Attorney’s Role in Harassment Cases

As your attorney, I’m here to guide you through the complex legal process and represent your interests vigorously. From drafting the initial application to arguing your case in front of a judge, we’re committed to obtaining the best possible outcome for you and your family.

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.

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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