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Background

There was an individual I was involved with approximately four years ago. The relationship was unwanted and abusive from the start. It was difficult getting out of and recovering from the situation. I desperately want him to stop contacting me.

At first he contacted me through any possible means (phone, email, social media), and would change the account he was contacting from if it became evident I blocked him. For the past couple years, it's been limited to email, and I've been handling the situation by filtering his emails to a separate folder so I'm not surprised by them, and responding asking him to stop contacting me, so that he doesn't change to a different email to get past my filters. However, I'm getting sick of putting up with this after years.

Question

  • Is what he's doing technically illegal? (Continuing to contact after repeated requests to stop)
  • What can be done to prevent him from contacting me further?

Note

Getting a new email address is not a solution I'm willing to accept, for fear it will result in a different, possibly worse, form of contact.

  • 1) It's not illegal unless he makes threats; 2) Just ignore. I bet he would have stopped long time ago if you did not reply at all. – Greendrake Feb 25 '18 at 6:06
  • Oh, if it were only illegal for someone to be annoying. I would agree that any response is a response... like an internet troll... the only way to end it is to ignore it completely. – Scott Feb 25 '18 at 6:25
  • OP, actually, this would depend on what he is emailing you. The tone of your second paragraph does not make it sound like the emails are threatening or harassing; however, your second line states the former relationship with unwanted and abusive and you say you "desperately want him to stop contacting" you. So, which is it? There is a difference. Under various state and federal laws, far from being merely "annoying," and not necessarily requiring "threats," this behavior may be considered cyberstalking, cyber bullying, etc. – A.fm. Feb 25 '18 at 8:57
  • To clarify, while his past treatment of me was abusive, and the emails shortly after I left him were abusive, the recent emails are not, but they do aggravate my (medical professional diagnosed) ptsd. If it were simply an annoyance, I could easily brush it off. While the recent emails look benign to someone without context, they are harmful to me. – user15769 Feb 25 '18 at 21:57
  • Ignoring was never effective, even when enacted for over a year, it merely caused him to attempt different means of communication. I have a sincere fear that "different means of communication" might someday be finding me in person, which I would like to avoid. – user15769 Feb 25 '18 at 22:00
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First let's look at federal law. According to 18 U.S. Code § 2261A - Stalking:

Whoever... with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses... any... electronic communication system of interstate commerce... to engage in a course of conduct that—
(A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of or serious bodily injury... or
(B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress... shall be punished as provided in section 2261(b) of this title.

"Course of conduct" is defined as at least 2 acts with a continuity of purpose, so the large amount of emails certainly qualifies. And email is obviously an "electronic communication system of interstate commerce". Then the question becomes whether he had intent to harass or intimidate you, and whether his conduct caused (or attempted to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause) substantial emotional distress.

The federal laws against email spam seem be be directed against commercial emails, and don't seem to be useful here.

Next we can look at Massachusetts law. Part IV, Title I, Chapter 265, Section 43 deals with stalking:

Whoever (1) willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and (2) makes a threat with the intent to place the person in imminent fear of death or bodily injury, shall be guilty of the crime of stalking...

Unless he made a threat, this doesn't seem to apply.

Section 43A deals with harassment:

Whoever willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person, which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, shall be guilty of the crime of criminal harassment...

He's definitely engaging in a "pattern of conduct" "directed at a specific person". The question then is whether he's doing it "maliciously", whether it "seriously alarms" you, and whether it "would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress".

That's what the law says. I can't say I know whether what he did crossed the line - I don't know the content of the emails and what your emotional state is.

  • This is extremely helpful, thank you. Assuming it did meet the requirements, what should be done? I'm assuming it's either contacting the police or contacting a lawyer. – user15769 Feb 25 '18 at 22:03
  • Yes, either of those sounds reasonable. The lawyer might be the best way to go if you can afford one. – D M Feb 25 '18 at 22:29
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you can contact the police, and ask the court for a restraining order to force him to stop.

the restraining order can get him thrown in jail for trying to contact you.

  • 2
    I could be wrong, but Massachusetts law seems to require "abuse", defined as "(a) attempting to cause or causing physical harm; (b) placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm; (c) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress", to get a restraining order. If she could get one, a citation to the law allowing this would be nice. – D M Feb 25 '18 at 4:25

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