How to Report Harassment the Easiest Way With DoNotPay
Harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere. It could happen in the workplace, on the street, over the phone, and on the — often conveniently anonymous — internet. You could be harassed by anyone, including former lovers, your neighbors, or your landlord. The official statistics on different types of harassment in the U.S. are concerningly high across the board, which probably means that the real picture is even grimmer.
So, what does it mean when somebody is harassing you? Sadly, there is more than one answer to this question. Harassment is an umbrella term that can cover a multitude of different types of abuse. Under U.S. laws, harassment is described as “any repeated or uninvited contact that serves no useful purpose beyond creating alarm, annoyance, or emotional distress.”
As a society, we are at risk of getting desensitized to harassment and bullying. This is all the more reason to educate ourselves, speak up, and stand up against the abuse.
What Counts as Harassment
The legal definitions of harassment vary significantly across the country. The states’ understanding of harassment, menacing, and stalking is a mixed bag, so you should first check the statutes on these issues in your jurisdiction.
In most states, harassment charges are typically a misdemeanor, unless there are some aggravating circumstances that will elevate the charge. For instance, if you’re being harassed based on your race, this will likely be treated as racial discrimination.
The fact that harassment is frequently classified as a misdemeanor (as opposed to a felony) doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. It is, and you should treat it as such.
To file a claim against your harasser, you will need to:
- Prove that something was said or communicated to you that made you feel harassed. This could have happened in person, in a letter, over the phone, or online (through email, on forums, or social media), etc.
- Show that what was communicated was also intended to torment, scare, threaten, or embarrass you
If the harassment communication occurs continuously, regardless if it’s online or in-person, this could also count as stalking. If you think you may be the victim of a stalker, find out more about how to stop a stalker.
Workplace and Sexual Harassment
When the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and its Title VII that banned workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex, a foundation for the first harassment law was laid. For the harassment in the workplace to be illegal, the law dictates that this type of behavior must be “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” If enduring this kind of conduct becomes a condition that the victim keeps their employment, the law also sees this as harassment. In other words, it’s illegal if the employee/victim complains about the harassment, and the offender or the company threatens to fire them because of it.
Sexual harassment is a type of harassment that involves things like requests for sexual favors or dates, sexual advances, derogatory or vulgar comments about the victim’s appearance, lewd comments or jokes, etc.
Workplace and sexual harassment can be separate instances of abuse, but an individual can also be subjected to both at the same time. In fact, many victims experience sexual harassment primarily in the workplace, and most of it is quid pro quo harassment. In 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission received 26,978 claims of workplace harassment, of which a little more than half (12,428) were about sex-based harassment and a quarter (6,696) specifically about sexual harassment.
What Is vs. What Isn’t Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Navigating what is considered sexual vs. non-sexual harassment in the workplace can be tricky. Refer to the table below for clear disambiguation between the two.
Sexual Workplace Harassment
|Non-Sexual Workplace Harassment|
|Sharing sexual anecdotes|
Making offensive gestures
Inappropriate touching or intentional brushing up against the other person
|Making derogatory comments related to someone’s appearance, race, gender, sexual identity, religion, ethnicity, and the like|
|Sharing od displaying sexually inappropriate material at the workplace|
Sharing or displaying generally inappropriate or politically incorrect material at the workplace
Making derogatory, vulgar comments about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identification
|Joking or talking about offensive stereotypes (based on race, gender, sexual identity, religion, ethnicity, etc.)|
|Making lewd jokes|
Using racists slurs or nicknames
When you’re applying for a new job, the screening process should go both ways. If you are job hunting, make sure you understand what your prospective employers are legally allowed to ask vs. what they cannot ask. You should walk away from the company if, during the hiring process, they ask you about your:
- Gender identification
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
Even if the hiring and onboarding process goes smoothly, you might still become a victim of workplace bullying over time. If that’s the case, study the company’s policy on workplace harassment and talk to the HR department. If you’ve exhausted all options but the harassment persists, speak to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Women and Workplace Sexual Harassment
The numbers on sexual harassment are staggering, as shown by a 2018 study on sexual harassment and assault by a nonprofit called Stop Street Harassment. It found that 81% of women and 43% of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime. This type of harassment most commonly occurs at work.
The tech industry in the U.S. is especially notorious for the workplace and sexual harassment. Susan Ho, entrepreneur and founder of the travel startup Journy, spoke to CNN about the challenges of being a female entrepreneur in the American tech industry. Silicon Valley is particularly infamous for its skewed power dynamics, where capital and the positions of power are largely controlled by men.
When female founders are pitching their business ideas to men, it’s not uncommon to hold the meetings in informal locations like restaurants or coffee shops, frequently after working hours, explained Ho. This type of setting can blur the lines of what is appropriate and what isn’t, putting the woman in a more vulnerable, disempowered position, often leading to instances of workplace sexual harassment.
Entrepreneur and founder of a mental health startup, Bea Arthur, shared similar views and experiences for the CNN piece. She noted: “If [the male investor] looks at another man, he sees them as an opportunity, a colleague, a peer, a mentor. But if you’re a female founder, he just sees you as a woman first.”
What Doesn’t Count as Harassment
What is considered harassment will vary not just on the motive of the harasser, but on the effect it had on the victim. Conduct that has caused harm and damage to the other person unintentionally is not legally seen as harassment.
The line between a harsh joke and harassment can be very thin. For instance, someone can say to you, “I want to kill you right now,” but that in itself doesn’t constitute a threat or harassing behavior. You would need to prove the context and that the intent of the person who said it was serious. Even if the other person didn’t mean to follow up on their words, their very aim to intimidate you would be enough to classify their words as harassing behavior.
To prove their intention and the effect it had on you, you would have to provide evidence. This could include:
- Proof of similar threats from the same person in the past
- Footage of the incident(s)
- Testimonies from other people
- Other relevant proof detailing the particular context when the individual made that remark
What Else Can You Do to Get Rid Of the Bully in Your Life?
Don’t suffer in silence—harassment is more prevalent than you think, and you’re not alone in it. If you’re struggling to take action against the person that’s repeatedly threatening, humiliating, or intimidating you, remember that they’re thriving on your tacit endurance. The sentiment is best captured in the words of Anita Hill, an American lawyer who brought allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas (who was a nominee for the Supreme Court at the time):
“We need to turn the question around to look at the harasser, not the target. We need to be sure that we can go out and look at anyone who is a victim of harassment in the eye and tell them they do not have to remain silent anymore.”
Here is a simple overview of things you should and should not do if you’re dealing with a bully in your life.
Filing a Police Report for Harassment
First things first—if you feel like you’re in imminent danger, call 911 or your local police station immediately. When a police officer arrives at your home, she or he will ask you questions to verify your claim and collect any proof of the harassing that occurred.
If the harassment you’re experiencing doesn’t pose an immediate threat but is still taking a severe toll on your mental and physical well-being, you should take action now. Don’t hesitate to report the harassing behavior to the police by filing a report at your local police station.
Here is what you need to know in order to file the report, as well as what happens after you have submitted the claim.
Before You File the Report
Before you go to the police, make sure that you have gathered all the evidence of the harassing behavior you were subjected to. This can include:
- Transcripts of harassing phone calls
- Audio or video footage of the harassment
- Printouts of harassing letters, text messages, e-mails, social media messages, and the like
- A list of witnesses
You should ask any witnesses of the harassing conduct if they are willing to be interviewed by the police and confirm that you were harassed. Once you have their approval, create a list of witnesses that contains their full names, home addresses, and phone numbers on which they can be reached. The more material you gather, the likelier it is that the police will take your claim seriously.
Once you’ve reported the harassment to the police with full evidence, they should present you with a written report summarizing your claim. Make sure to check it for any mistakes thoroughly.
What Happens When You File a Police Report for Harassment
As step one, the police will investigate the matter. This will typically include studying the evidence that you presented, interviewing witnesses to verify your claims, and reaching out to the person harassing you. If the harassment still continues, get in touch with the police officer handling your case and provide them with any new information regarding the continued harassment.
If that doesn’t help the harassment to cease either, you might be able to file a court complaint. To do so:
- Get in touch with your local court clerk’s office
- Ask for the forms required to submit the complaint
- Have the court issue a restraining order to safeguard you from the tormentor if the circumstances so demand
Depending on your state’s laws on harassment, defendants can be prosecuted for a harassment charge in different jurisdictions — either in the place where the harassment originated or where the victim experienced it. For example, if the defendant harassed their victim online, they could be prosecuted in a state where they were not physically present (but it’s where the victim experienced the bullying).
Reporting Harassment With the Help of DoNotPay
Being harassed can be a terrifying and lonely experience, so you may feel reluctant to reach out for help. Still, now is the time to find your strength and stand up against the harasser. Taking charge may be easier than you think, and DoNotPay can help you with that.
To let us help you with reporting your harasser, do the following:
- Access DoNotPay in your web browser or on your iOS device
- Select the Relationship Protection button
- Click on the Explore Relationship Services
- Select Safety and Stalking, then go to Let’s Do It
- Choose Stalking from the provided options—this also covers harassment
- Answer the questions the chatbot asks you
If you’re being harassed in person, DoNotPay will compose a cease and desist letter on your behalf. This letter, asking for the bullying behavior to stop at once, will be sent to the person harassing you. Even if they don’t pay attention to your request, you can use the cease and desist letter as proof that you’ve warned the harasser and to inform them of the legal action you will take against him/her if the harassing continues.
If you’re going through cyberstalking or online harassment, DoNotPay will get in touch with the social or digital media website that your stalker/harasser used to intimidate, threaten, or humiliate you.
We will do two things to protect you. Firstly, we will report your tormentor for online harassment on that digital/social media platform, which will put their account and online activity under investigation by the platform. Then, we will ask the website in question to block the user and make sure they’re never able to contact you again.
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