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What are harassment laws?

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Harassment laws are statutes that address behavior intended to threaten, provoke, annoy or cause someone emotional distress, explains Criminal Defense Lawyer. There are several laws aimed at harassment, and these cover hate crimes, stalking and bullying. As of 2015, certain online behaviors, such as cyberstalking and cyberharassment, are also specifically addressed by some states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Unlike many laws, which only require that someone perform an illegal action, harassment laws require that a defendant acts with intention, says Criminal Defense Lawyer. Harassment occurs both verbally and nonverbally; using words to provoke or intimidate someone is an example of the former, while using physical gestures to annoy or threaten someone and stalking someone are examples of the latter. Hate crime laws specifically prohibit harassment of someone based on gender, race, sexual orientation and age. In some instances, the law requires a repeated pattern of behavior, while actions that involve threats of violence, physical contact or behavior intended to provoke a violent reaction only require a single incident.

Some states have passed legislation to specifically address harassment that occurs via electronic communications, such as email, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These crimes are known as cyberstalking, cyberharassment and cyberbullying, although cyberbullying typically refers to behavior among minors in a school environment. Depending on the applicable state and federal laws applied by the prosecution, a harassment charge may be either a misdemeanor or a felony.

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