Civil Harassment: Definition & Types

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Everyone has heard the term harassment used in one form or another at some point in time. This lesson will define what constitutes civil harassment, and the different types of harassment that are legally included and prohibited.

The Neighbors

Mark and his family moved into their new home about two years ago. At first, all seemed well and Mark's new neighbors were very friendly. However, when Mark decided to add a garage to his home, neighborly relations took a turn for the worse. Mark's neighbor claimed Mark was encroaching on his property and started putting up a fence where the garage was planned. The two neighbors went back and forth with legal maneuvers until finally, Mark's neighbor decided to take things into his own hands. He started letting his dog urinate on Mark's lawn, told Mark's children how stupid their father was, and verbally threatened to physically harm Mark. Law enforcement was called numerous times and ultimately suggested that Mark file a civil harassment complaint against his neighbor.

What is Civil Harassment?

Civil harassment, in a nutshell, is when ongoing unwanted acts that are intended to prevent an individual from living their life in a normal, undisrupted fashion. As described in the example, Mark is experiencing harassment from his neighbor, who is relentless in his attempt to stop the garage from being added to Mark's property. The neighbor's behavior is unwanted, constant, and threatening.

Types of Civil Harassment

There are four types of civil harassment that are recognized under civil law. These include:

  • Abuse of elders and dependent adults
  • Violence directed towards a child, spouse, romantic partner, or family member
  • Harassment conducted by someone with whom there was never a romantic relationship
  • Harassment in the workplace

Let's take a more in depth look at each of these types of civil harassment.

Abuse of Elders and Dependent Adults

All too frequently we hear about elder abuse on the news. Elder abuse takes place when someone age 65 or older is subjected to harassment, verbal or physical abuse, and/or neglect. It can occur in the home by caregivers, or in an assisted living or care facility where elders reside. In 2011, many of us were shocked to hear that actor Mickey Rooney, 90 years of age at the time, was alleging elder abuse at the hands of his stepchildren.

Abuse of dependent adults applies to individuals who are dependent upon others for their daily needs and care. These individuals can be between the ages of 18 and 64 but who can't care for themselves as healthy individuals can. Some examples of abusive behavior directed towards elders and dependent adults include:

  • being physically or mentally abusive
  • depriving an elder or dependent adult of essential care and treatment
  • failing to provide nourishment or food
  • abduction
  • stealing funds for financial gain
  • leaving someone to care for themselves when they are incapable of doing so

Violence that is Domestic in Nature

Domestic violence is violence directed towards a child, spouse or ex spouse, romantic or ex romantic partner or other immediate family member. It can include the following:

  • causing mental or physical harm
  • threatening to do someone harm
  • sexual abuse or rape
  • harassing someone so that they are unable to live their lives normally

Harassment Directed Towards Others

When harassment is directed towards non-romantic interests, distant relatives, or people otherwise unknown to the individual, it falls into the harassment directed towards others category. Harassment in this category may consist of:

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