Cyberstalking Victim Resources - Defining Harassment

The Definition of Harassment

Wikipedia describes Harassment as:

The word is based in English since circa 1618 as loan word from the French harassement, which was in turn already attested in 1572 meaning torment, annoyance, bother, trouble [1] and later as of 1609 was also referred to the condition of being exhausted, overtired.[2][3] Of the French verb harasser itself there are the first records in a Latin to French translation of 1527 of Thucydides’ History of the war that was between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians both in the countries of the Greeks and the Romans and the neighbouring places where the translator writes harasser allegedly meaning harceler (to exhaust the enemy by repeated raids)
What is interesting, is that the English, French, Green and Roman etymology of the word "harassment" is one that any victim of stalking or cyberstalking (ipso facto, a victim of harassment) will understand intimately:
  • Torment
  • Annoyance
  • Trouble
  • To exhaust by repeated raids

The UK legal definition of harassment is found in The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The Act simply says:

Section 1 - Prohibition of harassment: 
(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct:
(a) which amounts to harassment of another; and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other. 

Further, "course of conduct" is defined by the Act as:
Section 7 - Interpretation of this group of sections: 
(2) References to harassing a person include alarming the person or causing the person distress. 
(3) A “course of conduct” must involve conduct on at least two occasions.

So in simple terms, harassment can be defined in the UK context as:
"Any two or more incidents which cause alarm or distress to another person, or which a reasonable person ought to know might cause that person alarm or distress."

The effect of this under UK law, is that it is technically not difficult to show the offence of harassment, so long as a reasonable person would feel alarm or distress if subjected to said "course of conduct". Practical realities are of course different to technicalities, nevertheless, when prosecuted intelligently (whether in its criminal context by the Police and The Crown Prosecution Service) or in a civil action under The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, proving harassment is not prima facie difficult to achieve.

Harassment can include::
  • Physical conduct;
  • Verbal conduct; and
  • Non-verbal conduct.
While the conduct must be unwanted by the recipient, it does not necessarily have to be that the harasser has a motive or an intention to harass. So it is still harassment even if the harasser does not know there is harm caused by their actions.

Harassment in the Workplace

Because of the rise recently in awareness of the issues involved in harassment, recent trends have shown significant rises in the number of people making claims of harassment at Employment Tribunals. If the complaint is serious, high damages may be awarded against the Employer, so it can be seen that it is important for the Employer to take seriously any allegation of harassment at an early stage and take steps to quickly resolve it.

Further Information

For further information, please also see:

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