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Family and Relationships
How Can I Stop Online Harassment?

New Jersey law protects people from domestic violence by making it possible to get a restraining order. The specific law that deals with restraining orders is the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA)—N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq. People in qualifying relationships are eligible to get a restraining order if one of the domestic violence crimes has been committed against them.

There are now nineteen crimes of domestic violence. They are:

  • Homicide
  • Assault
  • Terroristic threats
  • Kidnapping
  • Criminal restraint
  • False imprisonment
  • Sexual assault
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Lewdness
  • Criminal mischief
  • Burglary
  • Criminal trespass
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Criminal coercion
  • Robbery
  • Contempt of a domestic violence restraining order
  • Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury
  • Cyber-harassment

The crime of cyber-harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1, was added to the list on December 5, 2016. Cyber-harassment is when someone uses an electronic device- such as a phone or computer- or a social networking site to threaten you online. Cyber-harassment includes communication through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, for example.

The threat could be to hurt you or someone else, or to damage your property or someone else’s property. For example, if someone posts on Facebook that they are going to hurt you or a loved one, that would be an example of cyber-harassment.

It can also be cyber-harassment to use an online site to post “indecent” material about you with the intent to emotionally harm you or cause you fear of harm. This includes spreading obscene or sexual rumors about you online or posting intimate photos of you to cause you emotional harm or make you afraid that you will be harmed. This type of cyber-harassment has also been termed revenge porn. For more information about revenge porn, read What Is Revenge Porn and How Can I Protect Myself?​

The crime of cyber-harassment requires that the person making the threat or posting the material have a purpose to harass you. That means that they mean to annoy or alarm you with their behavior. Even if the person can explain that there was another reason for the behavior, the court can still find that that behavior was meant to annoy or alarm you based on the circumstances and common sense.

For any victim of domestic violence to get a final restraining order from the court, the victim must prove not only that a crime of domestic violence was committed but also that a final restraining order is necessary to keep the victim safe from immediate harm or future abuse. That means that the court could find that someone committed domestic violence against you, but that you don’t need a final restraining order. In the case of cyber-harassment, for example, this could happen if an online threat was addressed to you, but the abuser was making the threat to harm someone else. While that behavior might fit the definition of cyber-harassment, the court might conclude that you don’t need a final restraining order to keep you safe because the threat was to harm someone else.

Since cyber-harassment is a new crime, the current version of the temporary restraining order form does not yet include a check box for cyber-harassment. If you request a temporary restraining order from the court, you should tell the court that you want it to consider cyber-harassment specifically. The court will make a note in the temporary restraining to reflect your request.

Incidents of cyber-harassment can be reported to the police as a crime. Even if you do not qualify for a restraining order (which can be the case if you don’t have a qualifying relationship with the offender—for example, spouse, co-parent, household member, dating partner), you can still report the crime to the police and pursue the case in criminal court. If you do qualify for a restraining order, you can file a criminal complaint separately and in addition to your restraining order.

For the time being, there are no cases addressing cyber-harassment. Future cases will give us guidance on how the courts will deal with this new crime. Fortunately for victims, New Jersey law has recognized this trend and has made it possible for victims of cyber-harassment to get protection through the restraining order process. As a result,  while we don’t know precisely how this crime will be interpreted by courts, victims can still seek protection for this harassing behavior.

Many victims of domestic violence need additional support, safe housing, or legal help. Help is available for victims of domestic violence. You can contact the following organizations for additional assistance:
The New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24-hour confidential service, seven days a week, and can be reached at 1-800-572-SAFE (7233).

LSNJLAW's Restraining Orders Videos walk you through the process of filing a temporary restraining order and representing yourself at a final restraining order hearing.

If you have questions or need legal help, call LSNJLAW, Legal Services of New Jersey's statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). You may also apply online. Someone will get back to you within two business days.​

2/1/2017