Online harassment by a parent following a divorce
When it comes to online harassment, even families are not immune. A divorce, coupled with parental alienation could place a parent in a position where they are being accused of harassing their own child.
Online harassment between family members could sometime occur unintentionally but at the same time, the consequences for the individuals involved could be extremely unpleasant.
Our client Molly (not her real name) had been divorced from her son's father for 5 years, and her son had not spoken to her since.
Molly called us seeking advice about what to do. Molly explained to us that she was worried because she received a warning from the police for harassing her son. Her son had filed a complaint saying that she was harassing him and that he didn't want her to talk to him anymore. Molly was shocked and hurt by her son's complaint, but she knew that she needed to respect his wishes. She said that she would continue to love him from afar and would never try to contact him again.
She had been trying to reconnect with her son online for months but to no avail. She was starting to get frustrated, especially since she knew he was active on social media. She decided to take matters into her own hands and send him a friend request. He accepted, and they began messaging each other.
However, she soon began to notice some strange behaviour from her son. He would send her messages late at night, and they would be full of profanity and explicit language. Sometimes he told her that he did not want her to contact him anymore and other times he either ignored her or told her that he missed her. She was shocked and hurt, wondering why her own son would say these things to her. She wanted to find out how this could be happening and whether his complaint to the police could escalate. It was hard for her to understand how online harassment could happen when it came to her own child.
Molly was primarily reaching out to us to get advice on understanding the laws and to make her feel at ease, so she could be fully aware of her position in this situation and whether her attempts to make contact with her son could be regarded as harassment Molly was at her wit's end.
Her son had been confused and she didn't know how to make things right. She reached out to us for advice on how to understand the laws and make sure she wasn't doing anything that could be considered harassment. It was clear that she just wanted to make peace with her son and make sure he was okay. We advised her to reach out to a lawyer to get a better understanding of the situation and to see if there was anything she could do to make contact with her son.
It was a difficult situation, but we were glad to be able to help her find some peace of mind. She described the text messages she sent to him and provided evidence of her social media communications with him. However, they weren't typical harassing in the sense of being malicious or threatening. The messages were simply inquiring about his whereabouts and how he was doing. They used to be very close to each other and she felt that with the new situation, her son was having a hard time adjusting.
There are many cases where the person accused of harassment is unaware, initially that their activities are causing harassment and distress to the person receiving the communications. However, once you are told by the recipient of the communications that the communications are not wanted, you should consider whether your further communications could be considered harassment.
We explained to Molly that her son was clearly upset and hurt by her communications with him. Online harassment can be relentless. Molly’s son was upset and hurt. Whilst her messages were not persistent and they came from a good place, they were unfortunately unwelcome, and as such, they caused distress or upset to her son. From a legal standpoint, Molly was potentially harassing her own son, even though she did not intend to do so and her situation as a loving mother, was clearly unbearable. From a legal perspective, the intent behind online communications is irrelevant once the person communicating has been made aware that the recipient considers the communications as harassment. If in doubt, consider seeking specialist lawyer harassment legal advice.
If you are accused of unintended harassment, you should stop your current form of communication with the person making the complaint and consider other ways to communicate with them, perhaps by a mutually accepted mediatory or with the help of a lawyer. We were able to alleviate Molly's concerns by allowing her to identify with the concepts of online harassment, and what she could do in order to prevent further escalation and to make matters worse.
The last thing someone in Molly's situation wants to do is to find themselves in court, being on the receiving end of a cease and desist letter for actions that they did not intend to cause harm. Molly took our advice to consider the future and the wider picture here that perhaps her actions were only deepening the wound between herself and her son.
However, if she were to find herself in a situation where he had pursued a case of online harassment against her, a number of our expert harassment lawyers are fully qualified police station advisors, with experience of over 20 years in advising clients who face accusations of harassment. We will be able to support her further, should this become necessary.
Case studies are based on true cases where names, dates and circumstances have often been amended to protect the identity of those involved.