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Stalking and Harassment in the Electronic Age

A vital source of emotional support for people going through a tough divorce comes from having a reliable social network of caring friends and family. In today’s age of online social networking, “tweets,” and instant communication, it may seem as though you have an expansive network to rely on for social support.

However, venting to your friends in a personal, private setting is vastly different from venting to your friends on social media in a public fashion. When venting evolves into a continuous barrage of threatening and malicious comments, issues of criminal culpability for stalking and harassment may arise.

Washington Cyberstalking Law

When a person transmits an electronic communication to someone else with the intent of causing them distress, it can be considered “cyberstalking” under Washington law. According to Washington’s Revised Code § 9.61.260, a person commits the crime of “cyberstalking” “if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person…makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party” under certain circumstances.

The following circumstances can lead to a conviction of cyberstalking under Washington law:

  • Sending lewd or obscene words or images
  • Anonymously or repeatedly messaging another person
  • Threatening to injure another person or a member of their family or household

So, what qualifies as an “electronic communication?” Internet-based communications, including posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, online chatrooms, e-mail, text messages, and even pager messages, qualify as electronic communication through which cyberstalking can occur.

Cyberstalking is punishable as a gross misdemeanor offense and can be elevated to a class C felony for defendants with a prior stalking or unlawful harassment conviction, or defendants who threatened via electronic communication to kill another person.

“Unlawful harassment” is a criminal offense that involves a repeated pattern of conduct over a period of time. Accordingly, ceaseless acts that constitute cyberstalking can progress to unlawful harassment. Cyberstalking can also expose one to criminal liability for “stalking” if conduct escalates to place the stalking target in reasonable fear of bodily injury, or sustaining damage to their property. Stalking is also punishable as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the harassing conduct.

It can be difficult for the parties in a divorce to maintain perfect control over their emotions. After all, divorce is an emotionally challenging experience. However, people going through a divorce should consider the legal implications of succumbing to their passions and remember that cyberstalking can have lasting negative repercussions for you and others.

Consult O’Brian & Associates for Quality Legal Advice

If you are going through a difficult divorce or family law dispute, you should seek the professional legal counsel of an experienced attorney at O’Brian & Associates. For decades, our legal team as advised families throughout Washington on matters such as divorce and child custody. We are dedicated to guiding you through the hardships and promote your legal rights and best interests.

Contact O’Brian & Associates at (425) 276-7677 to schedule a case evaluationto explore your rights and available legal options.

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