If you are receiving death threats or believe yourself or your children to be in immediate physical danger, please dial 911 immediately.
You must clearly tell the harasser to stop
Generally speaking, it is unwise to communicate with a harasser. However, as soon as you determine that you are truly being harassed by someone, you must very clearly tell that person to stop. Simply say something like "Do not contact me in any way in the future" and leave it there. You do not need to explain why, just state that you do not want the person to contact you. Sometimes it is helpful to copy this message to the abuse department of the harasser's ISP. Keep a record of this message for your records. Do not respond to any further messages of any sort from the harasser. Don't have anyone else contact the harasser on your behalf. It is common for the harasser to claim that you are harassing him or her, but if you aren't contacting the person, it is clear that you aren't the harasser.
One of the first impulses many harassment victims have is to just delete any communications they've received, and that's a bad idea. It's important to save absolutely every communication you have with the harasser - email, chat logs, ICQ histories, anything. If the harasser has created a web site about you, save copies of it to your local system and have someone you trust who would testify in court for you if necessary to do the same. If you receive any phone calls from the harasser, have them traced immediately (your local phone company can tell you how to do that). If you receive any kind of postal mail or other offline communications, save them (with envelopes, boxes, etc.). Do not destroy any evidence - and do not handle it more than absolutely necessary or permit anyone else to do so. Immediately turn the evidence over to the police. Place envelopes, letters, etc. in plastic bags to protect any possible fingerprints.
Complain to the appropriate parties
It can at times be a little difficult for people to determine who the appropriate party is. If you're harassed in a chat room, contact whoever runs the server you were using. If you're harassed on any kind of instant messaging service, read the terms of service and harassment policies they've provided and use any contact address given there. If someone has created a web site to harass you, complain to the server where the site is hosted. If you're being harassed via email, complain to the sender's ISP and any email service (like Hotmail) used to send the messages. Figuring out who to complain to is one of the areas in which WHOA's volunteers can definitely help you.
Determine your desired result
What do you want to have happen? You need to think about that. Be realistic. It's reasonable to expect that you can get the harasser to stop contacting you. It is reasonable to expect that you can increase your safety online and offline and that of your family. It is not realistic to expect an apology from the harasser or any kind of "payback" or revenge. If you want to file a lawsuit because of something the harasser said about you, find a lawyer who will take the suit, but realize that you'll probably have to pay a lot of legal costs and may not ever get any kind of satisfaction.
Take our advice
You have to be willing to take the advice given to you, or you're wasting your time and ours. If we suggest that you change your email address, there's a good reason for it, even if it is a hassle. If we suggest that you not visit a particular chat room again, there's a good reason for it. Read our Online Safety Tips and follow the advice there.
Other pages to review:
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