Going to the police: When the criminal law can help with harassment
Criminal harassment (Harassment Act)
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 in this chapter, “Harassment in the community: Getting protection under the Harassment Act”).
When does behaviour amount to criminal harassment?
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.
(For more details about the meaning of “harassment”, see earlier in this chapter “Harassment in the community: Getting protection under the Harassment Act / What counts as ‘harassment’”).
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.
What’s the penalty for criminal harassment?
If a person is convicted of criminal harassment, they can be jailed for up to two years.
What if the harasser is released on bail?
If the police or the court release your harasser on bail, they’ll usually make it a condition of bail that the harasser must not contact you in any way.