What to Do If You Have Been Accused of Harassing Stalking Cyberbullying
Have you been accused of Online Harassment, Stalking or Cyber Bullying? You can use this article to determine if the accuser is correct in their accusations and what to do about it.
As I have discussed in all of my articles about Harassment and Cyberbullying: it is NEVER “ok” and people don’t have to “just deal with it”. But there are also defenses to what may have been falsely labeled harassment, stalking or Cyberbullying. Today we will tackle each of these accusations one at a time, starting with Harassment:
What is Harassment, as defined by the Law?
Harassment is defined as a pattern of repeated offensive behavior that appears to a reasonable observer to intentionally target a specific person or persons. Usually (but not always) the purpose is to make the target feel threatened or intimidated. Internet harassment laws make it a criminal act to use the Internet to threaten, torment, stalk, intimidate or otherwise distress a person. Online harassment can also be called “Cyber Bullying”
Determining if You Have HARASSED Someone
Remember, harassment is defined as two main parts: 1. It is a PATTERN OF REPEATED behavior and 2. It *typically* causes the person being harassed to BE AFRAID or DISTRESSED.
(Distress is legally defined as “Extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain”.)
Examples of what Harassment IS:
Posting very mean things online that cause the person you are posting about to be afraid of you or cause the person to be hurt. The individual does not have to be both hurt AND afraid.
Sending Text Messages, Instant Messages or Emails that cause the same
Creating Videos, Groups, Blogs or other things to scare or hurt someone
Having friends prank call an individual to make him / her feel afraid or miserable
Filing false reports against an individual with the goal of causing pain, severe frustration and/ or fear
Creating and/or using fake identities to taunt, slander or distress someone else
Taking actions that repeatedly confront or inhibit an individuals work
Encouraging others to participate in attacking someone with the goal of making them afraid or hurt
Fake Facebook Profiles ARE Considered Harassment
DEFENSES TO HARASSMENT CLAIMS
Harassment Versus Freedom of Speech. Three important factors have to be examined when determining Freedom of Speech or Harassment:
- Is there a foreseeable risk of harm?
- Unwelcomeness of harassing behavior or verbal, written, and/or online conduct
- Deprivation of opportunities, rights, and/or peaceful enjoyment
Freedom of Speech allows us to publicly dislike someone, but it does not give us the right to threaten or cause emotional distress.
Here’s an example of what could be deemed Harassment vesus what is Freedom of Speech:
HARASSMENT: “(Persons Name) you’re a fat piece of s*it and you deserve to die a miserable death. Nobody likes you or your retarded mother”
FREEDOM OF SPEECH: “I don’t like (Persons Name) at all. I think he is overweight and I have seen his mother act retarded. In my opinion people like that should be jailed for their ugliness”
Yeah, Freedom of Speech can be very mean, but it doesn’t make it illegal. BUT, Freedom of Speech can cross into harassment if the person MAKES REPEATED ACTIONS; such as a daily text message or Facebook post to remind the victim of how overweight they are. See, saying someone is overweight or even that you have seen their mother act retarded doesn’t mean you are bullying or harassing because it is your opinion; and you are lawfully entitled have an opinion and broadcast it. BUT, there is a line. Think of Donald Trump versus President Obama: Trump mercilessly attacked Obama for, well, just about everything from his Birth Certificate to his Presidential decisions. BUT Donald Trump is allowed to have his opinions. No laws have been violated by Trump and his attacks.
CYBER BULLYING 101
What is Cyber Bullying? I think the best way to look at it is “Unlawful Use of Computerized Communication Systems Law, which criminalizes intentional intimidation, threats, or abuse via electronic communication” (Wis. Stat. 947.0125)
So basically: Say what you want, providing it isn’t going to harm someone.
Cyberbullying isn’t limited to “just kids”; it’s parent-to-parent, coworkers, former employees, former significant others, child-to-teacher, and as we have even seen on the news, adult-to-child.
The grounds for Cyberbullying are the same as Harassment with the only difference being that Cyberbullying is strictly for the internet (but can also include cell phones).
DEFENSES TO CYBER BULLYING
Freedom of Speech is the most popular defense to Cyber Bullying. As discussed in “Harassment”, it is ok not to like someone. It’s even Freedom of Speech to broadcast how awful you think someone is… but you cannot cause intimidation, fear, extreme anxiety or distress.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE CYBER BULLIED OR HARASSED
If you know you are in the wrong, or you just want to avoid legal troubles (which can be exceptionally expensive: if you are found guilty of ANYTHING, you are fully responsible for the victims legal bill, which can be $5,000, $20,000 or more. If you are underage, your parents can be held financially accountable for your actions and if they do not pay the judgment, they can lose everything… court is very serious business!)
First: If you are underage, you may want to consider going directly to your parents and telling them exactly what you did. See what they suggest for you to do.
Second: No matter what age you are, removing your harassment from the internet is wise BUT you have to remember: nothing is EVER fully removed from the internet. Do not think that deleting it means it’s “gone”. Deleting it also does not “repair damages” you may have caused.
Third: An apology can go a long way. Apologizing for your actions can be a very difficult, humbling experience. But in order to offer a sincere apology you first need to figure out WHY you are harassing / bullying because the desire to hurt or scare someone has to come from somewhere or something in your life. A written apology is also good for court; although you won’t be able to “erase” what you did, you can still show that you genuinely feel bad for your actions and you have taken a step to try to make them “right”.
Fourth: Consult a Lawyer who SPECIALIZES in Internet Crime. Do not call “just any lawyer” because you will likely run into a lawyer who will take on your case but not know what REALLY needs to be done without spending substantial time researching it… which is more and more money you must spend. You should be able to have a 100% FREE consultation with any lawyer to see what can be done and if you are at risk for criminal or civil charges.
And finally, we have Stalking...
What is Stalking? Stalking is HARASSMENT but also can involve an accumulation of a series of actions which in themselves can be legal, such as calling on the phone, sending gifts, or sending emails. Stalkers may also go to extremes such as registering their victim for Spam email AND/ OR “snail mail” in addition to taking actions like sitting in their vehicle outside of the victims home or place of work or following the victim.
Stalkers may use threats and violence to frighten their victims. They may also engage in vandalism and property damage or make physical attacks that are mostly meant to frighten.
Just like Harassment and Cyberbullying, Stalking is UNWANTED / UWELCOMED and can result in both civil and criminal charges.
HAVE YOU STALKED?
Remember, Stalking is a form of (severe) harassment, BUT that doesn’t mean you HAVE stalked, even if you are accused of such.
For example, if you are purchasing gifts for someone and they are gladly accepting your gifts; you are NOT “stalking”. HOWEVER, if the individual has attempted to tell you that they DO NOT WANT your gifts and you keep insisting they take them, you are being intrusive and causing frustration which could ultimately lead to fear.
Of course, following someone around, monitoring their online “check-ins” to establishments, driving by their home or sitting outside their home is unacceptable. All of these are reasons that someone could fear you and have emotional distress caused.
TAKE OUR POLL AND HELP OTHERS
Have You Been Accused Of Stalking or Harassment of Any Kind?
IF YOU HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF STALKING
Immediately cease all methods of communication or perceived communication / stalking (for example, if you do drive by the accusers home daily, change your route. Of course, if you live on a dead end road this wouldn’t be an option, but if you do not, then you may really want to consider driving the extra mile to avoid accusations).
Contact a Lawyer. Never contact the accuser. Do not contact the accuser to offer an apology. Any further communications, even if to apologize can be viewed as more stalking.