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Community life

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

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 in this chapter, “Harassment in the community: Getting protection under the Harassment Act”).

When does behaviour amount to criminal harassment?

Harassment Act 1997, s 8(1)

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”).

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?

Harassment Act 1997, s 8(2)

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?

Bail Act 2000, ss 21B, 30

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.

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Harassment and bullying

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Victims Information


Phone: 0800 650 654
Email: victimsinfo@justice.govt.nz

This is the website of the government’s “Victims Centre”. The site provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime, at each stage of the criminal and youth justice process.

Human Rights Commission


Phone: 0800 496 877
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz

The Human Rights Commission website has information about your rights if you’re sexually or racially harassed:

“Sexual harassment” guide

Racial harassment

Harassment and bullying in the workplace


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

YouthLaw Aotearoa


Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com

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.

Ministry of Justice

Applying for a Harmful Digital Communications Order

This has 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:


Help with online bullying, abuse and harassment


Go to this website for 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.

NZ Police


This police webpage lists a number of phone counselling services and websites that can help.

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