What is harassment?
Harassment is defined as aggressive intimidation or pressure. This act will cover a vast range of behaviours and their nature will always be offensive. It is a kind of behaviour that upsets and disturbs. It is repetitive in its character. Within a legal purview, harassment is a type of behaviour that appears to be threatening or disturbing. For example, sexual harassment could be legally defined as unwanted and persistent sexual advances where the results of refusal may potentially be dangerous to a victim.
Different Types of Harassment
Harassment could be of various types –
• Police – This could be unfair treatment meted out by law officials including excessive force, threats and coercion involved with racial or ethnic profiling along with other methods of discrimination.
• Landlord – This type of harassment is a willful creation of conditions by a landlord or his or her agents that may bring about discomfort for the tenants so that they are forced to abandon their rental contract.
• Cyber Bullying – This could be harassment on social media sites on computers or on mobile phones that may involve text messages, photo messages or video messages or voicemail that torments or threatens the recipient of all these messages.
• Stalking – This act carried about by a group against any person could be categorised as community-based psychological harassment. It will involve use of repeated distractions that an individual is sensitive to. It could also be a personal hounding act carried out by an obsessive or a demented fan towards a celebrity.
• Power – This involves unwelcome attention that is of a political nature. It is often seen in a workplace environment like schools, universities and hospitals.
• Racial – This type of harassment involves targeting of a particular individual who may belong to a specific ethnicity or race. It may include harsh words, deeds or actions that are designed purposely to make the victim feel humiliated or degraded.
• Religious – This type of harassment may be of a verbal, physical or psychological type and it is used against a target because that person has chosen to practice a particular religion. This form of harassment may also include involuntary and forced conversions to a particular faith.
• Sexual – This type of harassment is commonly found in schools and at a workplace. It involves unwelcome deeds, words, gestures and actions of a sexual nature to make the target feel pressurized and uncomfortable.
Psychological Effects of Harassment
Several studies have shown that psychological harassment has drastic effects of a negative kind for individuals. The psychological effects of harassment may often drive victims to extreme bouts of depression. They bring about feelings of low self-esteem and low self confidence. Apart from being emotionally hurt, these victims have to persistently be scared of the next attack. This next attack seems certain unless some kind of support against harassment is sought. Victims who are psychologically harassed often experience anxiety or panic attacks.
Help and Support against Harassment
One of the things that make it difficult for law officials to deal with harassment is its repetitive nature of seemingly minor incidents. Helping these officials see the larger picture can make it easier to deal with the behaviour of the offender or offenders.
Victims who have experienced harassment may start keeping a diary where they jot down these negative events. They can specify he date, time and location of what happens. They can keep copies of harassing letters, emails or text messages. It is always advisable to gather evidence of such harassment events.
It is heartening to note that stalking and various other forms of harassment have been made criminal offences in England and in Wales since November 2012. These changes were done under the Protection of Freedoms Act of the same year. Once a crime is reported in these regions, the victim is immediately asked if he or she would like to take the help and support of organisations such as Victim Support.
Bullying, Harassment and the Workplace
Workplace bullying or harassment has been defined as the offensive or threatening behaviour that is directed at an individual to belittle him or her. It could also be directed at a group of workers. Issues of workplace harassment have gained attention among legal practitioners and they have become one of the most sensitive aspects of workplace management practices. Workplace harassment and bullying have been identified as core psychological hazards under health and safety laws across the world.
Taking Civil Court Action
If you are a victim of harassment, you will be able to take action in a civil court against a person who is harassing you. This claim has to be made within a period of six years of when the harassment took place. Civil court action could be taken even if the person who has harassed you has not been found guilty of any criminal offence.
The courts can make an injunction that the person who has harassed you has to put a stop to his or her behaviour. If the harassment does not stop after a court has made an injunction against the offender, it becomes a criminal offence and can be prosecuted in criminal courts. The victim could also demand compensation for any emotional or financial losses suffered on account of being anxious or distressed.
Protection offered by the Harassment Act of 1997
Harassment is both a civil action and a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997. It means that you could take action against a person in the civil courts for harassing you and if the person does not stop harassing you even after injunctions have been made against him or her by the civil courts, then that person could be prosecuted as well in the criminal courts. This Act makes it very clear that the victim has to experience at least a couple of incidents by the same offender or a group of offenders for it to be deemed as `harassment’.