A Washington Lawyer’s Perspective on Prosecuting People for Internet Misconduct by Starting a Criminal Case or Suing Them in Civil Court
In Washington, when you are being harassed or abused by someone online, it is important to understand your different legal options. Check our page on
If this is more applicable to your situation or factors into it.
Unless the conduct is life threatening, tell the individual bothering you to stop contacting you in writing by either certified mail or by email and then CEASE communicating with them. It’s amazing how many people continue to engage those who harass or abuse them even while wanting it to stop. The purpose of telling someone to stop in writing, or email, or text, is the other party cannot deny you said stop. As lawyers, we say you “clearly and unequivocally” put the harassing individual on notice that you wanted nothing more to do with them and wanted no more communication. Practically, the person put on notice to stop, who does not stop, will not be able to claim ignorance in a future case you may bring against him or her, nor will be able to claim you somehow encouraged more communication. Doing this is essential. There are potentially two different types of cases besides civilly suing someone for damages which you may choose to initiate if the behavior does not stop. Those two other options are civil protection orders or criminal charges.
Initiating a Criminal or Civil Action for Internet Misconduct
Criminal cases are initiated by you contacting the police. The police will then (hopefully) investigate the matter. Depending on the amount of evidence, the level of abuse or danger involved, the police may be very proactive in investigating the matter and criminal charges could be filed quickly. Once the individual is charged, the court will put criminal no-contact orders in place to prevent the abuser from harassing you further while the case is pending. Assuming they are released, if they violate the criminal no-contact order, they go back to jail. If the individual is convicted, the no-contact order will almost always remain in place for an increased period of time.
Civil Protection Orders
However, the reality is even if there is criminal conduct, unless it is life threatening, it may take well over a month or two for a criminal accusation to be investigated, sent to the prosecutor to be reviewed, and then filed … and that is only if the prosecutor thinks the conduct rises to the level of criminal prosecution. Even after the police investigate the matter, the police or prosecutor may decide there is insufficient evidence for a criminal charge or that the matter is not worth charging a crime over. One would hope the individual would stop on their own once they realize the police are investigating his or her conduct but that certainly is no guarantee and some don’t. If no criminal charges are filed, the abuser may even think their behavior is excusable (a lack of proof does not mean the conduct is legal) and will continue or restart the abuse. Even if the criminal case is still being investigated or the government chooses not to file criminal charges, you can still choose to be proactive and file your own civil protection order. Even if you do not win a civil protection order, the abuser is put on clear notice to stop and if further misconduct follows, police are more likely to take it seriously.
Things get a little trickier when you do not know who is writing the harassing things about you online. Again, an experienced lawyer | attorney will help you track down who the individual if possible as generally we know people who trace others online.
It is understandable for some people to think the abuser will lose interest at some point and go away on their own. Unfortunately, many bullies and abusers do not and remain infatuated with their target. In instances like this, it is important to protect yourself. Do not allow someone to take away your ability to relax and live in peace. The police can help you in many instances but in situations where the police are not the complete answer, lawyers can fight to get your life back. Email or call us at 206-708-7852 to set an appointment.