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Can You Get a Restraining Order for Online Harassment?

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Harassment can take many forms, both in person and online. While all forms are frightening and unsettling, experiencing it via the Internet can lead to a particular set of concerns. Namely, how do you protect yourself when the threat is digital?

In New Jersey, online harassment, also referred to as cyber harassment and referred to as such in statutes, is illegal and classified as a domestic violence crime. While there used to be limited avenues for protecting oneself, New Jersey has allowed individuals to file restraining orders for cyber harassment since 2016, and more recent legislation has expanded the options available to victims. 

What is considered online harassment? 

Harassment might seem like a broad, difficult-to-articulate term. However, there are specific legal criteria associated with it. In New Jersey, harassment is considered a form of domestic violence and is defined as:

  • Any type of communication at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm
  • The act of striking or offensive touching or the threat to do so
  • Any other course of alarming conduct or repeatedly committed acts with the purpose of alarming or seriously annoying another person

These actions can take place in person, but also online. In fact, cyber harassment has its own specific definition, which involves “making one or more communications in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another.” 

These communications can include:

  • Threatening to inflict injury or harm to a person or their property
  • Sending, posting, or requesting lewd, indecent, or obscene material about a person with the intent to harm or cause a person to be afraid of physical or emotional harm
  • Threatening to commit a crime against a person or their property

Even with these definitions, you may still feel unsure if what you’re experiencing qualifies as online harassment or how you can best protect yourself and your family. Quick action is important; an experienced domestic violence attorney can listen to what you’re going through and help you understand your options. 

If you’re experiencing an emergency or need immediate protection outside of court operating hours, contact your local police department by calling 911. The police will get an on-call judge and help you to secure protection regardless of the time.

Can you get a restraining order for online harassment? 

Obscured identities are part and parcel of the internet. This means that you may or may not know the perpetrator. 

This factor has historically conflicted with domestic violence laws, which required that victim and perpetrator share a close relationship—either as members of the same household, spouses, or a couple in a dating or co-parenting relationship, or in the case of sexual assault—to obtain a restraining order.

However, in July 2023, the New Jersey governor signed S-1517, a bill that expands and amends the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015. Its provisions allow victims of domestic violence to pursue a temporary restraining order (TRO) even if they don’t have a dating, intimate, or family relationship. 

If a person pursues a restraining order due to online harassment, and the court finds merit in their request, the court can issue a temporary restraining order. 

Once a TRO is obtained, the court will schedule a hearing to determine whether or not the TRO should be expanded into a Final Restraining Order (FRO). This process is normally expedited in the courts and typically occurs just ten days after the issuance of a TRO.

In situations where cyber harassment is alleged, the individual seeking the restraining order must demonstrate that the harasser’s conduct:

  • Threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;
  • Knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or
  • Threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person’s property

Can a restraining order protect you from online harassment? 

A restraining order can prevent the perpetrator from contacting or harassing another person via any form of communication, including posting on their social media accounts or sending direct messages and emails.

Restraining orders may help discourage the offender from continuing their actions, as they add the weight of criminal penalties if the order is violated. That’s because while a restraining order is a civil order, breaching it is considered a criminal act. 

In New Jersey, violating a restraining order can carry penalties such as financial obligations and/or jail time. Violations can potentially be charged as a higher degree crime depending on the circumstances involved. As such, penalties become more significant for second or third violations of restraining orders. 

Consult with an experienced New Jersey restraining order attorney 

A TRO, whether for online harassment or any other circumstance, places numerous limitations on the accused’s rights and freedoms, which is why it only lasts for a short time before the FRO hearing.

Because of this expedited court process, any party involved in a Temporary Restraining Order dispute should quickly secure legal representation. Ten days is a short timeframe to investigate the case and thoroughly prepare for the Final Restraining Order court hearing.

If you have questions about online harassment or restraining orders, contact our team to coordinate a strategy planning session. Our knowledgeable attorneys can guide you through the process.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.