Online dating is the new normal, but it is really still a lot like the Wild West. Not only are we, as human beings, in pretty uncharted social territory, but our legal system is struggling to keep up with the times.
What happens, for instance, when a romantic relationship that mostly exists online takes a turn towards the frightening. Can the courts protect you from abuse by an online partner or potential partner? What if you have met only briefly in real life, but you are the victim of threats, harassment, or abusive language online? What are your options to make it stop?
PFA Orders Require a Qualifying Relationship and Reasonable Fear
In order to qualify for a Pennsylvania PFA order, you must prove two things: (1) a qualifying intimate relationship and (2) a reasonable fear of violence. Several relationships can qualify for a PFA order including abuse by a spouse, ex-spouse, or a person living with you as a spouse, parent, child, or family member by blood or marriage, or someone within whom you share parentage of your child. But a qualifying relationship goes farther than just these family members. Pennsylvania law also protects you from abuse by a current or former intimate or sexual partner. Short-term dates may qualify as intimate, depending on the circumstances and conduct of the dating parties.
A Pennsylvania PFA order, though, is only available in the event of abuse. Your former online date may not have physically abused you. Yet Section 6102 of Pennsylvania's PFA Act defines abuse quite broadly to include not just actual physical violence but also attempts at sexual assault or other violence, placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious injury, or repeated acts or a knowing course of conduct, like stalking, placing the victim in reasonable fear of injury. Depending on the circumstances, repeated online messages could potentially qualify as placing the victim in reasonable fear of bodily injury. If a qualifying intimate relationship exists, online messaging could satisfy this second requirement for a Pennsylvania PFA order.
What if You Don't Have a Qualifying Relationship?
If you didn't have a qualifying relationship with the person bothering you, or that person's behavior did not place you in reasonable fear of injury, then you may not be able to obtain a Pennsylvania PFA order. But the person's behavior may break other criminal laws, the prosecution of which could gain you a protective order.
Criminal harassment is one of those potential crimes that could gain you a protective order in a criminal charge against your harasser. Under 18 Pa. C.S. Section 2709, criminal harassment can be either verbal or physical. Verbal harassment includes threats, name-calling, insults, and other forms of derogatory language. Physical harassment can encompass anything from unwanted touching to assault. Behavior directed at you with the intent to bother or scare you may be harassment.
Stalking is another Pennsylvania crime that could gain you a protective order in a criminal case against the person stalking you. Under 18 Pa. C.S. Section 2709.1, a person commits stalking not only when following the victim in a way that creates a reasonable fear in the victim of bodily injury but also when the person's conduct causes substantial emotional distress. A stalking charge may reach conduct that is severely distressing, such as threats to disclose intimate behavior, without threatening actual violence. Pennsylvania law also authorizes criminal charges for invasion of privacy and other similar actions that may occur in an online dating relationship, short of a threat of personal violence.
What Are the Legal Options Available to You?
If you believe you may qualify for a PFA order under the qualifying relationship and conduct definitions, retain a skilled and experienced Pennsylvania attorney to learn about the filing process. Your retained attorney can help you ensure that you have the right to a PFA order and the evidence to prove that right. Your retained attorney can also help you identify, acquire, organize, and present the evidence and arguments for a compelling case.
If you don't qualify for a PFA order, then your retained attorney may help you file a police report against the person harassing or stalking you, invading your privacy, or committing any other type of illegal behavior against you. A police report could lead to criminal charges and the criminal court's order not to contact you, the victim, during or after the proceedings. Your retained attorney can also write and serve a cease and desist letter on the person harassing you, if the local prosecutor fails or refuses to file criminal charges. An experienced lawyer can help you weigh your options so that you can get the legal recourse you need.
Reach Out for Help
No one deserves harassment, stalking, privacy invasions, or threats of violence in any relationship, especially in intimate or dating relationships where trust is a huge factor. Pennsylvania's legislature enacted the state's PFA Act and related criminal laws to protect you from exactly that kind of misconduct. If you find yourself in this situation, retain a skilled and experienced attorney to get the help you need to avoid all harm and distress. Pennsylvania defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have spent years helping clients seeking PFA orders and other types of legal relief. Regain control of your life. Consult Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm team. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or go online.
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