Did you know that bullying can be classed as harassment – which carries a criminal penalty of up to six months in prison?

Although there is no precise legal definition, conduct under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 states that harassment is defined as alarming a person or causing a person distress.

Before you assume that sounds pretty harmless, harassment is a criminal offence.

Not only does it cover actions, the Act

also includes speech – so harassment may take place by the use of words.

To be guilty of the offence the victim must on at least two occasions have suffered alarm or distress.

Sending an intimidating email for example, followed up by a menacing phone call may constitute harassment.

In fact, many types of bullying can amount to harassment.

Michael Labrum, Senior Partner at Labrums Solicitors, said: “One of the most worrying places we are seeing a spike in the number of cases is on social media. Cyberbullying allows the bully to feel more comfortable saying hurtful, intimidating and cruel comments when posting online.

“But for the victims, there is no escape. The comments are seen by more people, and can cause an incredible amount of stress and anxiety. In some cases young people have taken their own life due to what has been said by the trolls.”

Last week popstar Jessie J berated loyal fans who were being rude, abusive and hurtful to each other.

In an open letter she wrote: “Social media has changed the world a lot. And with everything that is happening in the world, anything we can do to action nicer behaviour and better understanding instead of being selfish and mean is what we should be doing.”

However, unattractive and unreasonable conduct does not of itself amount to harassment; the conduct must be oppressive or unacceptable to give rise to a criminal liability.

To determine if someone is guilty of harassment, a person ought to know that their conduct amounts to harassment of another.

In fact, if a reasonable person in possession of the same set of facts was to think that another person’s course of conduct amounted to harassment then indeed it is a case of harassment.

Stalking is yet another type of harassment, which we associate with Hollywood movies – but for many of us it’s become part of our real lives.

Being stalked leaves victims feeling emotionally traumatised, psychologically anxious and scared.

In some cases, victims of stalking are forced to leave their jobs, change their phone numbers and relocate homes in order to regain a ’normal’ life.

The Serious Organized Crime and Police Act 2005 has been amended to create a new offence which states specifically the types of conduct that are deemed to be unacceptable.

Under this offence a criminal liability can result if the accused on at least one occasion caused the victims to suffer alarm or distress, and it can now be used by families or businesses (within reason) to protect themselves from unwanted attention.

Each case will be determined on its own set of facts.

If you think you have been a victim of harassment, you can also make a claim in civil proceedings:

  • You can take out an injunction – which usually consists of an order preventing the accused from coming near the victim’s home or work.
  • You can claim damages, which may be awarded for (amongst other things) any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment.

If you need help, call us on 01727 858807

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