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Community life

Harassment in the community: Getting protection under the Harassment Act

What counts as “harassment”?

How “harassment” is defined in the Harassment Act

Harassment Act 1997, ss 3, 4

Before you get to the question of whether specific behaviour meets the test for getting a restraining order, you first have to show that the behaviour amounts to “harassment” as that term is defined in the Harassment Act.

For there to be “harassment”, there must be both of the following:

  • the type of behaviour set out in the Harassment Act, and
  • a pattern of behaviour, not just a one-off incident.

Step 1. Is it the type of behaviour that can amount to “harassment”?

These are the types of acts or incidents that can amount to harassment:

  • watching, hanging around, or blocking access to or from your home or workplace, or any other place you regularly or often visit
  • following, stopping or confronting you
  • coming into your home or onto your property, or interfering with your home or any of your things
  • contacting you – either by phone, letter, email or text, or through social media sites or apps like Facebook, or in any other way
  • giving you offensive material, or leaving it where you’ll find it or where someone else will give it to you or bring it to your attention – this includes posting offensive pictures or other material online
  • doing anything else that makes you fear for your safety, and that would make a reasonable person in your situation fear for their safety. This includes where the harasser does the thing to a member of your family, rather than to you directly, in order to target you, and even if that family member doesn’t in fact fear for their own safety.

Step 2. Is there a pattern of behaviour?

It won’t be harassment if the other person just does something once – like sending you a single text. There has to be a “pattern” of behaviour, which can be either of the following:

  • Twice in one year – There’ll be a pattern if the person does any of the things listed above (in Step 1) twice or more within 12 months. It doesn’t have to be the same kind of thing each time – for example, the harasser might first confront you outside your home, and then a week later leave an abusive note in your letterbox.
  • A continuing act – There’ll also be a pattern if the person does any of the things listed above as one continuing act over a period of time – for example, if they post abusive comments about you online and leave them there.

Harassing you indirectly through your family

Harassment Act 1997, s 5

It will also be harassment of you if any of the different acts that make up the pattern of harassment are done to your family members, rather than to you directly, in order to harass you – for example, if the harasser sends a letter to your teenage daughter, knowing this will upset you.

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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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