What if he's been harassing me ever since I left?
Leaving a bad relationship can be harder. It’s even harder, though, if the other party isn’t willing to let go. Whether because the other party is unwilling to let go of control or because they are vindictive, some do choose to harass their partners long after the relationship has ended. If you feel like your former partner is harassing you, it’s important that you take the correct legal steps. Doing so requires knowing if the actions qualify as harassment and then knowing what to do in order to make sure that the actions don’t continue to negatively impact your life.
What Constitutes Harassment?
Harassment is a loaded term, but for good reason – the law doesn’t look particularly on those who harass others. As such, it’s very important to know whether your former partner has been acting in a way that rises to the legal definition of harassment. While this is something that does differ depending on the jurisdiction, there are enough clear elements that one can make an educated statement on the matter. Once you figure out if the actions actually rise to this level, you can take your next steps. If you’re not sure, it’s always better to err on the side of reporting the behavior.
The basic definition of harassment is any action which annoys, threatens, intimidates, or puts a person in fear for his or her safety. The actions must also be systematic and/or continued, and they certainly must be unwanted in order to qualify legally as harassment in most areas. Therefore, you’ll need to know if his actions actually satisfy the definition. The first part – whether the actions annoy, threaten, or intimidate – is purely subjective. Only you can know if that part holds true. The rest, though, is definitely a bit more objective.
For the first bit, you’ll need to show that the action was systematic or continued. This means that it must have happened more than once. This isn’t to say that there aren’t legal problems – and remedies – for those who have been intimidated or annoyed a single time, but rather that harassment requires repeated offenses. Harassment can occur if the offense happens over a short period of time, though.
The second part is a bit tougher. The situation is clearly harassment if you have told him to stop. This is not, however, always possible – it may be dangerous to do so, or you may not have any chance to talk to him. If a reasonable person would not like this behavior, though, it still rises to the level of harassment. If you are asked why you didn’t ask him to stop the behavior, you can simply respond that there was not a safe way for you to do so.
What Happens Next
In most cases, the next step should be to contact the police. It’s not certain that the police will respond properly to your call, of course, but what you’re doing is establishing a timeline of events. Every time the offending behavior occurs, you should make a call to the police. It doesn’t matter how seriously they take the event – what matters is that you establish your objections to the behavior and make your attempts to work through the system.
Your next step – usually within hours of talking to the police – should be to get a restraining order. This is something that you can do at a local court, and you’ll need to be able to state your reasons for doing so. If you believe that his actions are putting your life or livelihood in danger, it should be easier to get a restraining order. It is possible, but difficult, to get a restraining order if he is simply being a nuisance – do not, however, expect every court to side with you in such a situation.
Once you have the restraining order, you must simply wait and see what happens next. If he complies with the order, that should be the end of the harassment. If he does not, though, you should immediately contact the police. Ignoring the order is acting against the direct wishes of the court, which does carry a criminal penalty.
If he’s haarassing your after leaving, it’s up to you to take the next steps. Determine if there’s even a chance that the actions could legally be considered harassment – or if they’re putting you in danger – and then call the police. Once that’s done, go get a restraining order taken out against him. Your best bet is to make it as difficult as possible for him to carry on his actions so that you can return to some sense of normalcy.