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Know the Laws: Massachusetts

UPDATED November 28, 2016

Harassment Prevention Orders

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This order protects from incidents of threatening, following, and/or coercive behavior that occurs more than once.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of harassment?

For the purpose of getting a harassment prevention order, the law defines harassment as:

1. Three or more acts malicious (cruel) behavior against a specific person with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that those acts actually do cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property OR

2. An act that:

a. By force, threat or coercion causes another person to have sexual relations against his/her will; or
b. Comes under one of the following crimes (you can click on the crime to read the exact definition):
Even if you file for a civil harassment prevention order, you still have the right to go to the police to ask that the person be arrested for harassing you, stalking you, or committing any of the above crimes against you.**

* M.G.L.A. 258E § 1
** M.G.L.A. 258E §§ 3(g) & 4

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back to topWhat is a harassment prevention order? Who is eligible?

A harassment prevention order is an order issued by a court to stop and prevent violent or threatening acts, abuse, communication, contact and/or harassment against you. It can also prevent a harasser (defendant) from coming within a certain distance of you. Any person who is being harassed can file for a harassment prevention order. It does not matter who the person harassing you is. It can be a stranger or someone you know.*

* M.G.L.A. 258E § 1

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back to topWhat type of harassment prevention orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of orders: temporary ex parte orders and final orders. If the judge believes that you are in immediate danger of harassment, the court can grant you a temporary order that will last until the final hearing (usually no later than 10 court business days). Note: If the court is closed or you are unable to go to court because of your physical condition, the judge can issue a temporary order by phone to a police officer who would then get it approved by the clerk. This would last until the next business day where you or a representative would file the petition and an affidavit explaining your physical condition.*

The court will immediately have to notify the abuser about the temporary harassment prevention order and about the upcoming hearing date.** At the final hearing, you and the abuser will have the opportunity to present your sides of the story through witnesses, testimony and other evidence. You have the right to have a lawyer with you and it is generally best to have one, especially if you believe the harasser will have one. Go to our MA Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. Then, the judge will make a decision whether to give you a permanent harassment prevention order or not.

If the abuser does not show up on the date of the final hearing, your temporary prevention order should continue to be valid.**

The final prevention order can last for up to one year. To extend the order, you can file a motion (legal papers) asking for an extension or you can go to court on the expiration date listed on the order. (The final order should list a date and time for when the next court date will be).  If you go to court on that date, you can ask the judge to extend the order for more time or even permanently.

You can still ask for an extension of your final order even if there have not been new incidents of harassment since the first order was issued.***

* M.G.L.A. 258E § 6
** M.G.L.A. 258E § 5
*** M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(d)

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back to topHow can a harassment prevention order help me?

The judge can order the harasser to do one or more of the following things:

  1. Stop abusing or harassing you,
  2. Stop contacting you, unless this is permitted by the court,
  3. Stay away from your home or workplace,
  4. Pay you money to reimburse you losses that resulted from the harassment such as loss of earnings from work, medical expenses, damage to property, the cost of replacing your locks, the cost for getting an unlisted phone number, your attorney’s fees, etc.*
Note: You can ask for the first three remedies (above) whether the harasser (defendant) is an adult or a minor; you can only ask for the 4th one if the harasser is an adult.

* M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(a)

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