What is harassment in Pennsylvania?
Merriam-Webster defines harassment as: “to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.” Put plainly, harassment is generally directed towards harming a person’s mental or emotional well-being. In Pennsylvania, harassment can become a legal problem in different ways.
There are several general areas where you can expect a harassment claim to come up:
- Workplace harassment
- Sexual harassment
- Ethnic harassment
- General harassment
In many cases, harassment is considered to be a civil matter and not something for the police or courts to get involved with. In other cases, the nature of the situation is so severe that it rises to the level of a crime.
Although Pennsylvania only has two offenses with the word “harassment” appearing in the title, several others are classified as harassment offenses:
- Harassment (18 Pa. C.S. § 2709)
- Stalking (18 Pa. C.S. § 2709.1)
- Aggravated harassment by a prisoner (18 Pa. C.S. § 2703.1)
- Ethnic Intimidation (18 Pa. C.S. § 2710)
- Terroristic Threats (18 Pa. C.S. § 2706)
- Threat to use weapons of mass destruction (18 Pa. C.S. § 2715)
- Terrorism (18 Pa. C.S. § 2717)
- Hazing (18 Pa. C.S. § 2802-2804)
What the harassment statutes all have in common is that they all involve the defendant behaving in a way that’s intended to shock, alarm, intimidate, or annoy another person.
Harassment through physical contact
Keep in mind that harassment can also involve certain types of physical contact that don’t necessarily rise to the level of assault. For example, someone can be charged with harassment if that person “strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the other person to physical contact.”
In certain circumstances, a person can be charged with harassment for doing certain things on the internet and through social media. For example, if the victim is a child, engaging in a course of conduct where the person is making “disparaging statement[s]” or sharing disparaging opinions about the child online, the person can be charged with harassment.
What can be considered to be harassment is a matter of context and what the person accused was actually doing. This can include things like spray painting someone else’s property, using a position of political power to intimidate someone else, sending intimate photos of someone to someone else without consent, intentionally putting a virus on someone’s computer, and causing a scene at certain meetings.
- Unlawful dissemination of intimate image (18 Pa. C.S. § 3131)
- Sexual extortion (18 Pa. C.S. § 3133)
- Criminal mischief (18 Pa. C.S. § 3304)
- False alarms to agencies of public safety (18 Pa. C.S. § 4905)
- False reports to law enforcement authorities (18 Pa. C.S. § 4906)
- False reports of child abuse (18 Pa. C.S. § 4906.1)
- Victim and Witness intimidation (18 Pa. C.S. § 4952-4958)
- Official oppression (18 Pa. C.S. § 5301)
- Loitering and prowling at night (18 Pa. C.S. § 5506)
- Disrupting meetings and processions (18 Pa. C.S. § 5508)
- Interception, disclosure or use of wire, electronic or oral communications (18 Pa. C.S. § 5703)
- Breach of privacy by using a psychological-stress evaluator, an audio-stress monitor or a similar device without consent (18 Pa. C.S. § 7507)
- Invasion of privacy (18 Pa. C.S. § 7507.1)
- Computer trespass (18 Pa. C.S. § 7615)
- Distribution of computer virus (18 Pa. C.S. § 7616)
Swatting in Pennsylvania
What is “swatting”?
Swatting is when a person calls the police and reports that a crime is in progress at a specific location with the intent of having the police respond to the location with an armed team. Swatting is considered to be a form of harassment.
Although swatting is a form of harassment, it’s not covered under Pennsylvania’s harassment statute unless the person making the call has engaged in a “course of conduct” or has made more than one call. But that doesn’t mean that swatting isn’t a crime in Pennsylvania.
What type of criminal offense is swatting in Pennsylvania?
Under 35 Pa. C.S. § 5310, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor to call 9-1-1 for anything but an emergency. In Pennsylvania, it’s also a crime to give false information to the police “with intent to implicate another” person or to lie to the police and tell them that an incident or crime took place when it’s not true.
Frequently Asked Questions about Harassment in Pennsylvania
Is creditor or debt collector harassment a crime in Pennsylvania?
It depends. If the debt collector isn’t following state and federal law for debt collection, they may be subject to a civil lawsuit and fines. If the debt collector goes beyond valid collection practices and starts calling repeatedly or at odd hours, that may rise to the level of harassment.
How much is the fine for harassment in Pennsylvania?
The fine for harassment in Pennsylvania can range from $300 to $1,400. The fine for a related offense can be as much as $10,000
Can you get jail time for harassment in Pennsylvania?
Is bullying considered harassment?
Depending on what is being done, bullying can be harassment.
What constitutes stalking in Pennsylvania?
If a person engages in behavior through a “course of conduct” or repeated actions with the intent to put someone else in fear of bodily injury that’s considered stalking. It’s also considered stalking if the course of conduct or repeated actions causes the other person “substantial emotional distress.” The classic definition of stalking is when a person follows or harasses another person without consent and either 1.) with intent to harm or cause fear of harm or 2.) in such a way that causes the other person substantial emotional distress.
Can you get a PFA for harassment in Pennsylvania?
If the a person engages in harassing conduct to the point that it puts “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood” in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury or abuse, then a PFA (protection from abuse order) may be issued for behavior that’s considered harassment.