Harassment Prevention Orders (G.L.C. 258E)

General Laws Chapter 258E is the statute that provides for the issuance of "harassment prevention orders." These orders are similar to 209A "abuse prevention orders," and the procedures are essentially the same. The key differences between 258E orders and 209A orders lie in the provisions for eligibility and the relief that is available.

258E Eligibility

Eligibility for relief under 209A is limited to "family and household members." This includes those who: are married to one another, are living together, are in a substantive dating relationship, have a child in common, or are related by blood or marriage. In contrast, 258E orders may be taken out against anyone who is regarded as a threat, even complete strangers. Under this law, there are three definitions of "harassment" that can justify relief. "Harassment" can mean three or more willful and malicious acts directed at a specific person with the intent to cause fear and that do in fact cause fear. It could also mean any act, even a single one, that by force or threat causes another person to engage in sex. A single act will also be enough under the third possible definition of "harassment" if the act amounts to one of 12 specified crimes, all of which involve harassment, stalking, and sexual assault. These enumerated crimes include: indecent assault and battery, indecent assault and battery on a child, indecent assault and battery on a mentally retarded person, rape, statutory rape, forcible rape of a child, assault with intent to rape, assault with intent to rape a child, stalking, criminal harassment, drugging for sexual intercourse, and enticement of a child.

Relief Available Under 258E

There are four types of relief available under 258E. The court can order the defendant:

  1. Not to contact the plaintiff

  2. To stay away from the plaintiff's home or workplace

  3. To refrain from harassing or abusing the plaintiff

  4. To pay restitution for certain losses

Under 209A, on the other hand, the court can also authorize surrender of firearms, temporary child custody, vacate orders, and orders relating to visitation and support.

Other differences between 209A and 258E involve jurisdiction and venue. The Probate and Family Court does not have jurisdiction to issue 258E harassment prevention orders, but it does have jurisdiction to issue 209A orders. Unlike 209A, the Juvenile Court may have jurisdiction to issue 258E orders if both parties are less than 17 years of age. Venue is more limited under 258E in that, unlike 209A, it is not available when the plaintiff flees from a former residence to escape harassment.

Punishment for Violations

Harassment prevention orders, like restraining orders, are civil in nature. However, a violation of a harassment prevention order is a criminal offense punishable by up to 2 1/2 years in the house of correction or a $5,000 fine, or both.

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