Your legal options if harassed or stalked in Durham, NC.

Resources, up front:

  1. Durham Police Department non-emergency line: 919-560-4600 or 919-560-4601.
  2. Know Your Rights (via EnoughNC).
  3. Services provided by the Durham Crisis Response Center.


On Monday morning of this week, I received an abusive email from someone I barely know. This person also happens to be a member of the arts and activism scenes of Durham. The email contained no physical threat, but was certainly verbally abusive. It was a concern to me because (1) they live in my community, so we have to share public space and (2) in general, I have a zero-tolerance policy for this sort of thing—when it’s directed at anyone, whether they’re public figures or not, and especially at women.

Given that I’ve learned a ton in the last few days about legal options, I wanted to share that with my community in Durham. Please note that laws vary considerably in other cities, and the particulars of this case meant that I learned only very particular things that aren’t universally applicable. (To cover a broader range of cases, check out the Durham Crisis Response Center.) Here, I’m using the pronoun “they/them” is meant to obscure the gender of the individual, not name it.

Briefly: I met them eight years ago, when I lived in Chapel Hill. From what I remember, they would crack racist, sexist, and other off-color jokes in an attempt to be “edgy,” which didn’t endear them in my social circles. After a certain point, if I saw them, I tended to avoid them. They confronted me about it via email, and I deflected, saying that I didn’t want to engage (I was about to leave for Ethiopia) but also that I hadn’t meant to cause them hurt, and wished them well. In the intervening eight years, if I saw them, I avoided them.

Two months ago, they approached me in public. I immediately told them I didn’t want to talk to them. They became belligerent. I had to say “I do not want to talk to you” five or six times before they finally walked away, which left me feeling scared and shaky. Then, just this Monday, I got that email through my public web site.

I asked friends for advice and very quickly got tons (and support and love, too, which I deeply appreciated, because getting that email was not a great way to wake up). The first step they overwhelmingly recommended was to file a police report. If that seems like an extreme step, it’s not—it’s a way to immediately establish a paper trail in case the situation should escalate, so that you can demonstrate in court that you took the abuse seriously from the beginning. Also, if others experience the same thing in the future (or have already), it’s a way to get their name in the system.

So I called the Durham Police Department non-emergency line, 919-560-4600 or 919-560-4601. The officer came over and we talked through my options. He asked whether the person had any history of physical violence; again, I barely know them, but there was no history of physical violence that I or our mutual friends were aware of yet. Since there was no immediate threat, he advised sending back one short email expressing the following (after which any further contact can be acted upon by the police or legal system):

I do not consent to receiving any further emails from you. I do not consent to any further contact with you in any medium, including in person. Any further contact in any medium will be considered harassment, and will be documented and filed as such with the Durham Police Department. Do not contact or approach me again.

I was hoping it would end there. But that night, I came home to two additional emails, one of which threatened to sue me. (On what basis, neither I nor anyone I talked to could imagine.) Given that this response is now legally actionable, I filed another police report, again via the Durham Police Department non-emergency line, 919-560-4600 or 919-560-4601. 

Two days later, I talked to a lawyer who specializes in these cases. She pointed me to a number of amazing resources, including EnoughNC, which lays out your legal options in clear language. To wit: if you have no previous relationship with the harasser, you have the option to file for a 50c no-contact order order. It’s free to file, and all one needs to file is the harasser’s name and date of birth, which an officer can provide you; but you do need to appear in court for it to take effect.

The other option is to file criminal stalking charges. From the web site: “Stalking is defined as ‘on more than one occasion, following or otherwise harassing… another person without legal purpose with the intent to’ either ‘place the person in reasonable fear either for the person’s safety or the safety of the person’s immediate family or close personal associates’ or ’cause that person to suffer substantial emotional distress by placing that person in fear of death, bodily injury, or continued harassment and that in fact causes that person substantial emotional distress.'”

So, now you know as much as I know. And people of Durham? I love you. And I want to build a community that doesn’t tolerate this kind of behavior from its members. If something like this happens to you, this is where to start.

Again, the resources:

  1. Durham Police Department non-emergency line: 919-560-4600 or 919-560-4601.
  2. Know Your Rights (via EnoughNC).
  3. Services provided by the Durham Crisis Response Center.


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17 Comments on “Your legal options if harassed or stalked in Durham, NC.”

  1. How disconcerting. I hope this person will leave you alone now. Thanks for this how-to guide.

  2. I’m sorry you had to write it, but thanks. As usual, your collation of information and concision in relaying it are breath-taking.

  3. jamjarhead says:

    Thank you, Monica. I will forward this to ones I know can use it.

  4. sweetsound says:

    “They” need to get a life, seriously. That is the most ridiculous thing ever. I’m glad you’re taking serious steps about it, because the constant violations of boundaries is not acceptable. I hope they leave you alone now.

  5. Pam says:

    Great resources. Am a firm believer in zero tolerance of this sort of thing.

  6. Lola says:

    There is a considerable difference from city to city. I know for myself I was in an abusive relationship about 7 years ago and he lived in Durham and they actually did something. Where as when I lived in Cary a female was harassing me and just like your case there was no actually threat but abusive verbalization and they basically told me if there was no threat there was no problem. I have since moved to New Jersey and the police here are helping me through legal prosecution of this individual who continues to harass me via social media platforms and has gone so far as to hack me on numerous occasions. The best anyone can do is be as informed as possible.

  7. Julie E. Byrne says:

    Goodness, beeb. I remember the back-story. You ok? I hope he stopped by now. GRRRRR.

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  9. kurtnemes says:

    Thank you for this. I teach a course where I work about harassment. I see this is from over a year ago. I hope the person is behind bars. We also say take action quickly to put the person on notice. You have it in writing and if they reply with a nasty reply, that’s more evidence the authorities can (and should) take action on.

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