Harassment: Understanding its Evolution in Civil Law

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Harassment, in its many forms, has been a societal issue for centuries. Over time, legal systems worldwide have had to adapt to recognize and address it. Understanding the tort of harassment, its evolution, and its applications across various sectors, including workplaces, schools, and online platforms, is essential for promoting respect and dignity for all.

Defining Harassment

In legal terms, harassment typically involves a course of vexatious comments or conduct that is known or ought to be known as unwelcome. In other words, it’s persistent behavior that causes distress or annoyance and is recognized as unwanted by the recipient. The nature of the behavior can range from verbal comments and physical actions to digital communications.

The Evolution of Harassment

Historically, legal systems primarily addressed harassment within the criminal law context, typically as a form of assault or, in some cases, a public nuisance. However, as societies have evolved and recognized the its deep impact on victims, many jurisdictions have expanded their civil laws to include it as a distinct tort. This evolution has allowed for more comprehensive protection and recourse for victims, as they can now bring civil lawsuits against their harassers.

The advent of the internet and digital communication has further complicated the issue. Cyber harassment, involving persistent and unwanted online communication, has become a significant concern. Legal systems have had to adapt rapidly to address this and provide adequate protections and remedies for victims.

Applications of the Law Across Sectors

The principles of the tort of harassment apply across a variety of sectors and settings.

In workplaces, employers have a legal obligation to ensure a safe and respectful environment. This means that businesses must actively address and prevent harassment, with potential civil liability if they fail to do so. Similarly, in schools educators are increasingly recognized as having a duty to protect students. The tort has evolved to consider the unique context of schools, including power imbalances among students and the crucial role of educators

The rise of the internet has also necessitated the application of harassment laws to online platforms. Social media companies, for instance, have been pushed to take a more active role in preventing and addressing abuse among users.


The evolution of the tort of harassment reflects society’s growing recognition of the profound impact of persistent, unwanted behavior. From the workplace and schools to online platforms, understanding and addressing it is an ongoing societal challenge, even for KPA’s experienced team. As our interactions continue to evolve, so too must our legal principles, always striving to promote respect, dignity, and the freedom to live without fear of harassment. 


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