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Filing a police report for online harassment

8 common reasons police officers use to not investigate online harassment

The law should be on the side of the victims of internet harassment but until it catches up, many people are left feeling desperate and helpless. The truth is that reporting and filing a police report for online harassment can be a lengthy, fruitless affair and just leaves victims of online harassment in a deeper campaign of harassment with more complexities and challenges because of the nature of the internet.

Victims of internet harassment often feel hopeless, powerless, frustrated, and isolated. In many instances they feel scared and paralysed. Unfortunately, as so many people have experienced, the police's lack of awareness, training and technical expertise can reinforce the feelings of despair.

If you have been a victim of an online reputation attack and have tried to report harassment to the police, you were probably shocked and disappointed to learn that your local police force told you they could not investigate the online harassment against you.

Harassment is a civil matter

This is the most common excuse the police give to avail itself from investigating cases of online harassment.

It is true that harassment is also a civil matter and that often, there is a civil dispute between the parties, a dispute which triggered the harassment in the first place. However, harassment is equally a criminal matter and even if there was a dispute between the harasser and the victim which triggered the harassment (for example a business dispute or a partnership dispute), this does not mean that the police cannot or should not get involved.

There is no harassment here at all

This is the excuse that police officers give when they do not fully understand your problem.

There are many examples of serious cases of harassment that ended up in court and with prison sentences to the harasser, where the police initially claimed that no law was broke by the harasser. They said this because they simply did not understand the facts and how the law applies to the facts. There are other cases where police officers simply did not understand the law of harassment. You can read about online harassment definition here. 

You can stop the harassment yourself by not going online

When police officers give you this learned advice, it means that they not only fail to understand what you are going through or the law of harassment, but that they also fail to understand the very fundamentals of how modern day harassment works.

There are too many police officers who have too little practical experience in using social media and very limited understanding of why people use social media in the first place. The advice to victims of online harassment to not go online ignores the simple fact that the law says that you might feel harassed regardless of whether the harassment is in your face.

Yes, blind people can also be harassed online and we have enough experience in handling cases of harassed individuals who were simply unable to access the information published about them but who nevertheless felt harassed.

We do not have the time and resources to investigate your case

Blaming the lack of willingness to even understand your harassment case on the lack of resources is still unfortunately very common among police officers in the UK. It is difficult to understand what the police is there for, if not to protect individuals from social or physical harm. As more and more features of our society move online, crime also follows.

Investigating internet harassment is often easier for the police because the victim in most cases is able to hand over nearly all the evidence in the case. The problem is that with long lasting cases of online harassment, the evidence might have piled up. When police officers tell you that they do not have the time and resources to investigate your online harassment case, before reading the evidence properly, your conclusion should be that those police officers should be looking for a new job, where no reading, analysing or enquiring is required. Not having the time or financial resources is simply not a reason you should accept.

Your harassment case is out of our jurisdiction

The nature of the internet is that people interact with each other remotely. It should never be your problem how different police forces divide their geographical responsibilities. As far as you are concerned, as long as you report the matter to your local police station, your local police should be liaising with whoever they need to by employing a police co-ordinator.

For harassment purposes, the crime is committed where the victim is located. So just because the harasser might live 5 minutes down the road or 200 miles across the motorway where a different police constabulary is in charge, does not mean your local police officers are excused from servicing you well.

We don’t have the tools to deal with this type of harassment

Police forces across the UK are not equipped to deal with internet harassment (save for exceptional cases where they decide to invest the required resources in helping a particular individual). Very few senior police officers have any understanding of the psychology of the internet, how it works or the technologies and techniques online attackers and bullies use to intimidate their victims.

Perpetrators of internet harassment, it seems, are steps ahead of the police in forms of their understanding of technology.

We need more evidence before we can investigate your harassment

Advice everywhere tells you to document internet harassment and report it to the police and we advise this too, purely because documenting everything and reporting internet harassment to the police to build up a crime report is key for evidence in whichever route you go down: criminal courts or through the civil courts.

So, to document everything about your internet harassment: take screenshots, emails and web page addresses (URLs) and print off, twice - one for you and one for the police. Put the copies for the police in a folder with as much information as you can give, with dates and every other bit of evidence you can find.

Take the folder to the police, tell them it is harassment and leave it with the person on reception. They will have to investigate.

The investigation is likely to take a long time

If you have been told by your local police force that they are investigating your internet harassment case, they will often warn you that the case will take an extremely long time to investigate. Furthermore, once investigated, a case would have to be made to the Crown Prosecution Service before it could proceed.

Often, the investigating officer will find it challenging to obtain resources and budgets to pursue a thorough investigation of the internet harassment, which might involve obtaining information from organisations that reside outside the jurisdiction (this, unfortunately is when the police have closed cases).

If the case is being investigated, it could be many months before the courts deal with the matter and in the meantime the abusive internet posts are likely to remain in place, if they haven't been shared or spread, as such is the nature of the internet. Reporting your internet harassment to the police could be a long affair. 

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