It is a criminal offense to communicate with or threaten a person with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass the person. Criminal harassment may take many forms, and may be classified as the criminal offense of stalking, cyberbullying, or hate crimes—depending on the applicable state or federal law.
Laws vary from state to state, but a person generally commits a crime if, with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another, the person:
• initiates communication and in the course of the communication makes a comment, request, suggestion, or proposal that is obscene;
• threatens to inflict bodily injury or to commit a felony against the person, a member of the person’s family or household, or the person’s property in a manner reasonably likely to alarm the person;
• communicates a false report (that the communicator knows is false) that another person has suffered death or serious bodily injury, and does so in a manner reasonably likely to alarm the person receiving the report;
• causes the telephone number of another person to ring repeatedly, or makes repeated telephone communications anonymously or in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another;
• makes a telephone call and intentionally fails to hang up or disengage the connection;
• knowingly permits a telephone under the person’s control to be used by another to harass someone;
• sends repeated electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another person.
The offense of criminal harassment is different from sexual or other harassment that may occur in the workplace, for example, and that is prohibited by state and federal law. Harassment in the workplace generally incurs potential civil liability (money damages in a lawsuit) but not criminal charges—unless the conduct is sufficiently egregious to constitute criminal harassment.