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How Social Media Becomes Harassment

The legal definition of harassment in Iowa covers various types of conduct. Generally, you could be accused of harassing someone else if you intentionally engage in behavior to intimidate, annoy, or alarm them. This includes the virtual world and social media.

The law concerning harassment is Iowa Code § 708.7. It states that charges can be levied when someone:

  • Communicates with another person when they have no legitimate reason for doing so and they could annoy or harm that individual. The method of communication can be verbal, written, or electronic.
  • Puts a simulated explosive or incendiary device in an area where other people are. Such locations could include but are not limited to, airplanes, cars, and buildings.
  • Orders or sends something to another person without their consent. This does not mean giving a gift to someone. Instead, it means having goods or services delivered to the other person or ordering such items in their name, and the reason for doing so is to annoy them or alarm them. In other words, the actions do not have good intentions.
  • Falsely reports a crime. This involves either reporting that an illegal act has occurred knowing it hasn't, or telling the police that someone committed a crime knowing they did not.
  • Sends nudes of another person. The harassment statute makes it unlawful to send images or videos of someone completely or partially naked or engaged in sexual conduct when that individual did not consent to its dissemination. For instance, posting online, texting, or sending a social media message a depiction of a person where their genitals, buttocks, pubic area, or nipple or breast (of a female) is showing, can result in a criminal charge.
  • Personally contacts another individual. It is unlawful for a person to be in the visual or physical presence of someone with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or alarm them. The act can, but does not necessarily have to, include physical touching or verbal communication.

What Are the Degrees of Harassment in Iowa?

Iowa law separates harassment into three levels. First-degree harassment occurs when someone threatens a forcible felony while committing the offense.

Under Iowa Code § 702.11, forcible felonies include:

  • Child endangerment;
  • Assault;
  • Murder;
  • Sexual abuse;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Robbery;
  • Human trafficking;
  • First-degree arson; and,
  • First-degree burglary.

First-degree harassment charges can also arise when someone sends nude images or videos of another person, or when the alleged offender has been convicted of harassment three or more times within the past 10 years.

Second-degree harassment involves threatening bodily injury to the other individual. Charges also arise when a person harasses someone else, and they have been convicted of the offense two or more times within the past 10 years.

All other types of harassment are considered third-degree harassment.

What Is the Sentence for Harassment in Iowa?

The penalties that can be imposed depend on whether the offense falls under the first-, second-, or third-degree category.

First-degree harassment is an aggravated misdemeanor with conviction penalties including:

  • Up to 2 years of imprisonment and/or
  • Up to $8,540 in fines

Second-degree harassment is a serious misdemeanor, penalized by:

  • Up to 1 year of imprisonment and/or
  • Up to $2,560 in fines

Third-degree harassment is a simple misdemeanor, punishable by:

  • Up to 30 days of imprisonment and/or
  • Up to $855 in fines

In addition to incarceration and/or fines, anyone convicted of harassment where the fact finder determines the offense was sexually motivated, the convicted could be required to register as a sex offender (Iowa Code § 692A.126). That means they would have to periodically provide their local law enforcement office with their personal identifying information, which is accessible to the public. This requirement can create a stigma that can hurt the individual's well-being and ability to live a productive life.

If you have been accused of harassment, it is important that you retain legal representation right away. You may be facing serious penalties, but you can fight the charge and seek to minimize or avoid these sanctions.

At Branstad & Olson we are here to help with your criminal matter in Des Moines. Our team has more than 65 years of combined experience and is ready to get started on your case.

Schedule a free consultation by calling us at (515) 329-3100 or contact us online today.

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