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Taking action about harassment

This advice applies to Scotland

If you have been the victim of abusive or threatening behaviour by someone or an organisation it may be classed as harassment. There are different actions you can take if you’re being harassed. The best remedy to take may depend on who is harassing you and where the harassment happens or has happened. Some actions you can take are based in civil law and some from criminal law.

Read this page to find out more about what options you have if you have been harassed.

What is harassment

Harassment is unwanted conduct by one person that causes distress and alarm to someone else. Harassment could include threatening behaviour and may create an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment for you. It could be someone you know, like a neighbour or person from your local area who behaves like this or it could be a stranger - for example, someone on the bus. Harassment techniques can also be used by an organisation to intimidate you.

Examples of harassment include:

  • unwanted phone calls, letters, emails or visits
  • stalking
  • verbal abuse and threats
  • smashing windows or using dogs to frighten you.

Everyone has the right to be free from harassment. The law provides different measures to control harassment in different situations. This page provides a summary of all the major ways in which you can try to protect yourself and take action about what has happened.

Contact the police if you think you are in danger

If you’re being harassed and you feel you're in danger you should contact the police. You can contact them directly at www.scotland.police.uk or contact your local community team. There is a specific form available for reporting stalking.

Harassment because of who you are

You may think that you are being harassed and discriminated against because of, for example, a disability, your race, religion, transgender identity or sexual orientation. You can report the harassment to the police as a hate incident or crime. This is against the law under the Equality Act 2010. The police encourage third party reporting of any hate incidents that take place in the community. You can report the incidents on the website of Police Scotland at www.scotland.police.uk.

If this type of discrimination happens at work there are a number of ways to challenge it if you can prove it is discrimination.

Take action to protect yourself from harassment

If you’re thinking about taking action to protect yourself from harassment you may have a range of options about what to do next because there is different law to protect you in different situations. You may have to decide what to do based on the seriousness of the threat to you. The reason there is lots of different law is because it covers very specific types of harassment. There are also general legal options like getting a court order called an interdict to keep someone away from you. The law on harassment also allows the police to keep a record of what is happening.Your options may be determined by whether it is a person or an organisation that is harassing you.

The following list provides some examples of harassment and some of the options you may have about what to do next depending on what has happened and how seriously you are affected:

Stalking is a particular type of harassment which is nearly always frightening and can cause terrible distress on a daily basis. Someone can be prosecuted if there are at least two instances of stalking behaviour. The legislation that covers this is section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 and you would need to go to the police to report the incidents.

Threatening or abusive behaviour from someone is unacceptable and may include harassment. Someone can be charged with an offence after only one incident of that behaviour. The person may be prosecuted under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. If the behaviour takes place at a football match there are additional different charges that can be applied. You would need to report this type of behaviour to the police.

Harassment and specific civil law is there to protect you. You can apply to court for civil orders such as an interdict or a non-harassment order if there has been at least two instances of harassment. Depending on the circumstances you can ask for a power of arrest to be attached to the non harassment order. If the person who has harassed you breaks a non-harassment order they are committing an offence and will be arrested immediately if a power of arrest was attached to the order. If someone breaches an interdict you can report them to the police and get advice about what to do next. Under this legislation you can apply to court for compensation. You would need the help of a solicitor to do this and it could become expensive.

Domestic abuse. There is specific separate law to protect you from abuse and harassment at home with options to apply for an interdict that can control someone's behaviour, for example to stop them coming near your home. Some court orders can have powers of arrest attached. This is covered in another page.

Harassment at work. If you are being harassed at work you can take some action to protect yourself. What to do next may be determined by who is harassing you and why you are being harassed.

Harassment that is racially aggravated. There are specific offences that relate to racial aggravation. It requires two instances of the behaviour for someone to be charged with an offence. You would need to report this to the police to do something about it.

Harassment by creditors. If you owe money to a creditor and stop making payments, they can take action against you to get their money back. A creditor is someone you owe money to. Some types of behaviour by a creditor when they try to recover money from you are not acceptable and could be harassment. If it is harassment it is a criminal offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. If you feel you're being harassed by a creditor, there are several things you can do to stop them doing it.

Harassment by a landlord. A landlord or their agent can be prosecuted for a criminal offence of harassment if they behave in such a way that your enjoyment of the peace and comfort of the property is disrupted or services like power or water are withdrawn or limited and it limits your use of the property in such a way you feel you have to leave.

Harassment on the internet or in chat rooms. Harassment on internet media sites like Facebook or Twitter or in chat rooms is sometimes known as cyber bullying. If you’re being harassed on the internet there are things you can do. For example, you can report it to the police and contact your internet service provider to control who has access to your page. If you are concerned about online bullying, Bullying UK may be able to help, visit their site at www.bullying.co.uk.

What to do next

You should get advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice. In some cases you may need legal advice. What you do next may depend on who has been harassing you and how serious you feel the harassment is.

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