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Harassment against a child

Protecting your child from online harassment

If your son or daughter has been a victim of harassment, you don't have to deal with the situation on your own. We offer support to families coping with the distressing issue of online harassment against children. At Cohen Davis Solicitors, we are dedicated to protecting the rights and well-being of school children, students, and other vulnerable young people. Our highly experienced team specialises in handling these sensitive cases, ensuring that justice is served and your child's safety is prioritised. We're here to provide the compassionate and effective legal support you need to navigate this challenging time.

Table of content

Case study on child harassment legal advice

Controlling and coercive behaviour against a child

How we handled this harassment case against a young person

Writing to harasser in a foreign country 

Shutting down harasser’s Facebook account

Lawyer’s thoughts about the case

Case study on child harassment legal advice

Between 2015 and 2019, Megan (not her real name), a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, became the target of manipulation and harassment by a Polish woman named Anna through various social media platforms. They met online and quickly became friends, with Anna living in Poland at the time.

Over these years, Megan's desire to please Anna led her to comply with multiple requests, including sending significant amounts of money. This relationship was not merely transactional; it was characterised by coercion and manipulation, with Anna using social media to exert control over Megan. Megan’s parents became increasingly concerned, suspecting that Anna was stalking their daughter through anonymous social media accounts.

Controlling and coercive behaviour against a child

In 2019, Megan’s parents wrote a heartfelt letter to Anna after noticing that she took advantage of Megan's young age and vulnerability. Anna had continued to create and develop a dependency on Megan, isolating her from other friends and her parents. Megan was a victim of controlling and coercive behaviour by Anna. The letter explained the harm this relationship was causing. Unfortunately, instead of stopping the contact, Anna shifted to a more indirect approach.

She used anonymous Instagram accounts to tag Megan in distressing posts, deliberately crafted to trigger her and exacerbate her suicidal tendencies. Given Megan’s Asperger’s syndrome, she found it nearly impossible to break free from Anna's influence. At a loss and desperate, not knowing what to do next, Megan’s parents called our law firm to seek legal advice and prevent Anna from contacting and stalking their daughter, both directly and indirectly.

How we handled this harassment case against a young person

Upon reviewing the case, we advised Megan’s parents that their concerns were entirely justified. Megan was a victim of harassment, and our challenge was to create a legal framework to protect her from further harm. This appeared to be a complex case, right in our area of expertise and what we do best. We considered various options and were prepared to win the case no matter what. One of the primary concerns was the jurisdictional issue, given that Anna resided in Poland. We reassured them that under English law, harassment cases focus on the victim’s residence, allowing us to handle the matter within the UK.

We planned to approach Anna ourselves but in the meantime, we considered all options. We advised Megan's parents to gather historical messages and Instagram posts to demonstrate a persistent course of action by Anna. For the current harassment, we planned to obtain disclosure orders from Instagram to reveal identifying information, such as email addresses and IP locations, behind the anonymous accounts tagging Megan. Supporting this application, we needed witness statements from both of Megan’s parents to contextualise our case. Proving that these anonymous accounts were created by Anna would significantly strengthen our position, demonstrating her intention to harass Megan.

With the appropriate evidence, we aimed to request an injunction from the court to prevent Anna from contacting Megan directly or indirectly. This process involved informing Instagram of Anna's actions and requesting them to block certain IP addresses and accounts linked to her. These combined actions were expected to bring the harassment to an end or at least mitigate its impact.

We also considered the possibility that Anna might cease her harassment once she realised the serious legal consequences of her actions. However, knowing that we were in a position to succeed in identifying Anna, closing her accounts, and stopping her from harassing the vulnerable young lady, regardless of her cooperation, we first wrote to Anna to set out the legal position and our client's readiness to take immediate action.

Writing to a harasser in a foreign country 

Before seeking disclosure orders, we proposed writing to Anna, informing her of the case against her and our intent to collect information from Instagram to substantiate harassment claims. We warned our clients that this approach might prompt Anna to delete some accounts, potentially limiting our ability to obtain user information later.

To mitigate this risk, we suggested preparing our disclosure request with Instagram simultaneously while notifying Anna. Upon receiving instructions from our clients, we drafted a letter of claim to Anna on behalf of Megan. This letter addressed issues of misuse of private information, breach of confidence, harassment, and infringement of Megan’s rights under the GDPR.

We notified Anna of our intent to seek a High Court injunction in London if she did not cease her unlawful behaviour. Despite our efforts, including personally serving the letter in Poland and sending follow-up communications, Anna did not respond.

Shutting down the harasser’s Facebook account

Before engaging in more costly measures, such as legal proceedings, we decided to write to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, requesting the removal of Anna’s accounts. We provided a detailed background on the case, including medical evidence of the harm Anna’s conduct caused Megan, such as her diagnoses and prescribed medication.

After several communications with Meta Platforms, they agreed to remove Anna’s main Instagram account in accordance with their terms and policies. This decisive action seemed to have a significant impact, as Anna ceased her harassment of Megan from that point onwards. It appears that the removal of her account and Meta's notification that we were seeking a disclosure order sent a clear signal to Anna that the time had come for her to cease and desist her harassment activities against our client.

By taking this initial step, we not only safeguarded Megan’s well-being but also demonstrated our commitment to exhausting all available remedies before proceeding with more extensive legal action. We understand that our work must be proportionate in terms of costs to our clients, so we always strive to find the most cost-effective route to stop harassment.

Lawyer’s thoughts about the case

Reflecting on this case, the lawyer recognised the complexity and sensitivity involved in protecting vulnerable young individuals from online harassment. It became evident that social media platforms often respond more promptly to legal representatives, underscoring the importance of seeking professional advice in such situations.

The lawyer noted that, fortunately, confronting harassers directly and outlining the legal consequences of their actions can be sufficient to stop the harassment, making it unnecessary to pursue costly litigation in every case. Parents are advised to monitor their children's online interactions closely and to seek legal intervention early on, as timely action can effectively prevent further harm and ensure the safety and well-being of their children.

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