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Criminal & traffic law

Going to the police: When the criminal law can help with harassment


The worst kinds of harassment – including cyberbullying – can be a crime, and therefore you may be able to make a criminal complaint to the police.

There are a number of different Acts that include criminal offences in this area. Some of them, like the Harassment Act, deal with harassment, bullying and intimidation regardless of the form of the behaviour – that is, whether it’s face to face, or through a note in your letterbox, or through texts, emails and online posts.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act deal with offences specifically aimed at cyberbullying or other online harassment (see: “Cyberbullying”).

Criminal harassment (Harassment Act)

Harassment Act 1997, s 8

The Harassment Act makes the most serious kinds of harassment a criminal offence. If you complain to the police and they believe the harassment is criminal, they can arrest and charge the harasser.

The Act says it’s a criminal offence for someone to harass you, if they intended to make you fear for your safety or if they knew that what they were doing was likely to make you fear for your safety.

Note: If what happened doesn’t meet the test for criminal harassment, you may still be able to use the non-criminal process under the Harassment Act against the other person. This involves going to the District Court to get a Restraining Order (see: “Getting protection under the Harassment Act”).

When does behaviour amount to criminal harassment?

Harassment Act 1997, s 8(1), (2)

First, the behaviour must amount to “harassment” as that word is defined in the Harassment Act. This means there must be a pattern of behaviour involving the specific kinds of acts set out in the Act:

  • The specific acts include a range of behaviour, like hanging around outside your house or work, or following you, or contacting you by phone, letter, email, text, online post, or any other way.
  • A “pattern” of behaviour can consist of two or more acts of harassment within 12 months, or one continuing act over a period of time, like posting material online and leaving it there.

Second, the harassment must meet the specific test for “criminal” harassment, which depends on the harasser’s intention and state of mind. For the behaviour to be criminal, the harasser must either:

  • intend to make you fear for your safety, or the safety of your partner or a family member, or
  • know that the harassment is likely, given your particular situation, to make you fear for your safety or the safety of your partner or family member.

If a person is convicted of criminal harassment, they can be jailed for up to two years.

If they are convicted, but are awaiting sentencing on bail, the court will usually make it a condition of bail that the harasser must not contact you in any way.

Bail Act 2000, ss 21B, 30 Crimes Act 1961, ss 179, 306 Summary Offences Act 1981, s 21 Telecommunications Act 2001, s 112

Someone who is harassing you might also be committing another offence.

For example, it’s a criminal offence if someone is:

  • Encouraging suicide – It’s a criminal offence for someone to tell you that you should kill yourself. They could be jailed for up to three years for this or, if you do in fact try to kill yourself, for up to 14 years.
  • Threatening violence or damage – It’s a criminal offence for someone to threaten to kill you or threaten to seriously injure you (cause you “grievous bodily harm”), or to send you a letter, text, email or other written material containing this kind of threat. They could be jailed for up to seven years.
  • Intimidating you through threatening injury or property damage – It’s a criminal offence for someone to threaten to injure you or damage your property, if they intended to frighten or intimidate you or knew that these were the kind of threats likely to frighten or intimidate any reasonable person. They could be jailed for up to three months or fined up to $2,000.
  • Using a phone to harass you – It’s a criminal offence for someone to use a phone to disturb, annoy or irritate you, if their intention was to offend you. It’s also an offence to use “profane, indecent, or obscene” language over a phone, or to suggest something that’s profane, indecent or obscene, if this is done with the intention of offending you. They could be jailed for up to three months or fined up to $2,000.

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Bullying, harassment and sexual harm

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Victims Information

Victims Information is managed by the Ministry of Justice and provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime.

Website: www.victimsinfo.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 650 654

NZ Police

The police provide a list of phone counselling services and websites that can help victims of bullying and cyberbullying.

Website: www.police.govt.nz/about-site/other-sites/no-bully-website

Harassment and bullying in the workplace

The Worksafe New Zealand website has information and guidance about workplace bullying.

Website: www.worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/bullying-prevention-toolbox

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata/Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission website provides information about human rights in Aotearoa and outlines how you can make a complaint to the Commission.

Website: tikatangata.org.nz or www.hrc.co.nz
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz
Phone: 0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)

Information on racial harassment: www.hrc.co.nz/files/6714/2354/5062/24-Nov-2009_16-20-38_RacialHarassment-web.pdf

To make a complaint online, download a complaint form or find out more about the complaints process: tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/make-a-complaint

YouthLaw Aotearoa

YouthLaw provides free legal advice for young people throughout New Zealand. Their website provides great information for young people about the law around harassment and bullying.

Website: www.youthlaw.co.nz
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com
Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)



NetSafe provides free and confidential help if you’ve been bullied, abused or harassed online. NetSafe has been appointed by the government to be a free information service and complaints agency under the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

Website: www.netsafe.org.nz
Email: help@netsafe.org.nz
Phone: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
Text: “Netsafe” to 4282

Ministry of Justice – applying for a Harmful Digital Communications Order

See the Ministry of Justice website for information about applying to a District Court judge for a “take down” order or other type of action when you’ve suffered serious emotional distress because of cyberbullying.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/courts/civil/harmful-digital-communications/applying-for-a-harmful-digital-communications-order

NOTE: Before you apply to the court you must have complained to NetSafe.

Support for sexual harassment and assault

Wellington Rape Crisis

Wellington Rape Crisis provides free social work and counselling services to survivors, along with their friends, family, whānau and supporters.

Website: wellingtonrapecrisis.org.nz
Phone: 04 801 8973
Email: support@wellingtonrapecrisis.org.nz


HELP has been Auckland’s specialist provider of sexual abuse support services since 1982.

Website: www.helpauckland.org.nz
Email: gethelp@helpauckland.org.nz
Phone: 0800 623 1700
Instagram: www.instagram.com/helpauckland

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa

Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa aims to enable all male survivors of sexual abuse to access a national network of a high quality support services.

Website: malesurvivor.nz

Contact your local support organisation: malesurvivor.nz/contact

Safe to Talk

Safe to Talk offers free confidential contact with a trained specialist at any time, day or night, seven days a week.

Website: safetotalk.nz
Email: support@safetotalk.nz
Phone: 0800 044 334
Text: 4334

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