Internet-based communications have changed the way people communicate socially and professionally. Email, social media, instant messaging, and other online media allow us to quickly reach thousands of people worldwide, or just a few people locally.
For all its benefits, the internet also allows people to communicate negatively and anonymously if they want to. That opens up a whole new avenue for people who want to harass others, either sexually or in another demeaning or dangerous manner. While you can permanently block someone harassing you, that does not usually stop them. They can continue to build multiple online personas and continue the harassment.
Here is the bottom line: online harassment is a crime in New Jersey. Online or “cyber” harassment can take many different forms, including:
- Messages or posts that contain lewd or obscene messages or material
- Sending obscene materials to someone with the intent to cause them emotional harm or fear of harm
- Distributing sexual videos or photos of a person (revenge porn)
- Messages that threaten physical harm to a person or property
- Messages that threaten to commit a crime against a person or property
So how do you know whether a post, message, email, or other communication is sexual harassment? Sometimes there is just a heated exchange of words that may not be sexual harassment. Here is how to tell the difference between online harassment and an exchange of words:
- Online sexual harassment often requires a specific intent by the harasser to cause emotional or psychological harm to the victim.
- Online sexual harassment is often carried out over a period of time and generally involves repeated distressing messages or posts.
- A message or post that is highly offensive or distressing, like distributing videos of a person, may need only to happen once to be considered harassment.
Online Sexual Harassment at Work
Online harassment can happen at work as well as at home. In addition to New Jersey’s cyber laws, employees in the workplace who are being virtually sexually harassed are protected by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII and workplace sexual harassment laws.
The EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment does not change when the harassment is virtual. EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment or work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
Following are examples of internet-based sexual harassment at work:
- One colleague makes sexually suggestive online comments to another, thinking it is okay because they are friends outside of work.
- A male colleague makes a sexually suggestive remark about how a female colleague is dressed during a ZOOM meeting.
- A manager texts a subordinate with suggestive messages about getting together at an off-site conference.
- An employee posts a rumor about the sexual orientation of a colleague in a department Slack message.
- An employee downloads images of a female employee in a bikini from her Facebook page and then distributes them to colleagues along with lewd comments.
- A superior sends a sexually suggestive email to a subordinate, implying a raise or promotion in return for “favors.”
- A worker sends another worker pornographic images.
What Should I Do if I am Being Sexually Harassed through the Internet?
Harassment needs to be reported, whether the harassment happens inside or outside of the workplace. In the workplace, contact someone in management or the human resources department. Outside of work, contact the police.
In either case, doing the following can help you prove the harassment:
- Document the dates, times, frequency, and nature of the harassment and the harasser.
- Demand the harasser, in writing, to stop their behavior. Use email, text, and other traceable means and document your efforts.
- Take screenshots of virtual posts or messages and download incriminating emails, posts, and texts.
If the harassment is at work, you may want to consult with an employment lawyer. They can help you communicate with the company and help you receive fair and just treatment. If your company is not responsive to your complaints, your lawyer can move the complaint forward through the EEOC and other authorities.
What are Cybercrime Penalties in New Jersey?
Most employers have policies and penalties for sexual harassment at work, whether virtual or in-person. They may even get the police involved if the situation warrants it.
New Jersey takes internet harassment – including sexual harassment – seriously. Many law enforcement agencies have special departments devoted solely to finding and punishing those breaking the law online.
Online harassment involving serious threats can lead to aggressive law enforcement action. If the police want to arrest someone, they need to show probable cause. The probable cause can come from the victim, who has copies and other evidence of the harassing communications.
Online harassment is considered a crime of the fourth degree in New Jersey, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and a felony conviction on the harasser’s criminal record. Note that if a person is 21 years old or older and pretends to be a minor online to sexually harass another minor, the charge is upgraded to a crime of the third degree.
The Marlton Employment Lawyers Advocate for Victims of Harassment
Sexual harassment is illegal, online or otherwise. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, let the Marlton employment lawyers at Burnham Douglass help you find justice. Call us today at 856-751-5505 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey. We proudly serve clients in South Jersey, Camden County, Burlington County, Atlantic County, Gloucester County, and Mercer County.