AskDefine | Define harass

Dictionary Definition



1 annoy continually or chronically; "He is known to harry his staff when he is overworked"; "This man harasses his female co-workers" [syn: hassle, harry, chivy, chivvy, chevy, chevvy, beset, plague, molest, provoke]
2 exhaust by attacking repeatedly; "harass the enemy"

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (US) , /həˈræs/, /h@"r

Extensive Definition

Harassment refers to a wide spectrum of offensive behavior. When the term is used in a legal sense it refers to behaviors that are found threatening or disturbing, and beyond those that are sanctioned by society. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially very disadvantageous to the victim.


United States

In 1964, the United States Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, , prohibiting discrimination at work on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and sex. This later became the legal basis for early harassment law. The practice of developing workplace guidelines prohibiting harassment was pioneered in 1969, when the U.S. Department of Defense drafted a Human Goals Charter, establishing a policy of equal respect for both sexes. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, : the U.S. Supreme Court recognized harassment suits against employers for promoting a sexually hostile work environment. In 2006, U.S.A. President George W. Bush signed a law which prohibited the transmission of annoying messages over the Internet (aka spamming) without disclosing the sender's true identity.


In 1984, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibited sexual harassment in workplaces under federal jurisdiction.

United Kingdom

In the UK there are a number of laws protecting people from harassment including the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. For a fuller description of the laws on harassment in the UK see this page.


Both because the term is used in common English, and because where the term is defined by law, the law varies by jurisdiction, it is difficult to provide any exact definition that is accepted everywhere.
In some cultures, for instance, simply stating a political opinion can be seen as unwarranted and a deliberate attempt to intimidate — in a totalitarian society any such statement could be interpreted as an attempt to involve someone in rebel activity or implicate them in same, with the implication that if they refuse, they are putting their own life in danger. More usually, some label such as "anti-social" or related to treason is used to label such behaviour — it being treated as an offense against the state not the person. This resembles the use of psychiatry to imprison dissidents which is common in many countries.
Another example is that under some versions of Islamic Law merely insulting Islam is considered to be a harassment of all believers, and in Japan insulting any faith is usually considered taboo and has legal sanctions. Because of these variations, there is no way even within one society to provide a truly neutral definition of harassment.


However, broad categories of harassment often recognized in law include:

Types of harassments

There are a number of harassments that fall into this category.
Bullying Harassment that can occur on the playground, school, in the workforce or any other place. Usually physical and psychological harassing behavior perpetrated against an individual, by one or more persons.
Psychological harassment This is humiliating or abusive behavior that lowers a person’s self-esteem or causes them torment. This can take the form of verbal comments, actions or gestures. Falling into this category is workplace mobbing.
Community Based Harassment - stalking by a group against an individual using repeated distractions that the individual is sensitized to, such as clicking an ink pen. See the following website:
Racial harassment The targeting of an individual because of their race or ethnicity, for example, Canadian. The harassment may include words, deeds, and actions that are specifically designed to make the target feel degraded due to their race or ethnicity.
Religious harassment Verbal, psychological or physical harassment's used against targets because they choose to practice a specific religion. Religious harassment can also include forced and involuntary conversions.
Sexual harassment Harassment that can happen anywhere but is most common in the workplace, and schools. It involves unwanted and unwelcome, words, deeds, actions, gestures, symbols, or behaviors of a sexual nature that make the target feel uncomfortable. Gender and sexual orientation harassment fall into this family.
Stalking The unauthorized following and surveillance of an individual, to the extent that the person's privacy is unacceptably intruded upon, and the victim fears for their safety.
Mobbing Violence committed directly or indirectly by a loosely affiliated and organized group of individuals to punish or even execute a person for some alleged offense without a lawful trial. The 'offense' can range from a serious crime like murder or simple expression of ethnic, cultural, or religious attitudes. The issue of the victim's actual guilt or innocence is often irrelevant to the mob, since the mob relies on contentions that are unverifiable, unsubstantiated, or completely fabricated. Hazing To persecute, harass, or torture in a deliberate, calculated, planned, manner. Typically the targeted individual is a subordinate, for example, a fraternity pledge, a first-year military cadet, or somebody who is considered 'inferior' or an 'outsider'. Hazing is illegal in many instances. Police Harassment Unfair treatment conducted by law officials including but not limited to excessive force,profiling, threats, coercion, and racial, ethnic, religious, gender/sexual, age, or other forms of discrimination.

Colloquial speech

In some contexts of colloquial speech, the word "harassment" and its derivatives can mean in a playful manner "bothering". In computer gaming contexts, "harassment" might constitute provocative or annoying actions in the game. Harassment in strategy games may also mean early attacks aimed to stunt an opponent's growth of either economy or technology. In these contexts, the severity of the terminology is much less intense, and does not carry the same connotations as the legal definitions.


See also

harass in German: Belästigung
harass in Spanish: Acoso
harass in Hungarian: Zaklatás
harass in Japanese: 嫌がらせ
harass in Polish: Molestowanie
harass in Russian: Домогательство
harass in Turkish: Taciz

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abuse, afflict, aggravate, aggrieve, ail, annoy, badger, bait, be at, be the matter, beat, bedevil, befoul, beleaguer, beset, besiege, bewitch, blight, blockade, bludgeon, bluster, bluster out of, bother, bristle, browbeat, brown off, bug, bulldoze, bully, bullyrag, burn out, burn up, chevy, chivy, complicate matters, concern, condemn, corrupt, cow, crucify, curse, damage, debilitate, defile, demoralize, deprave, despoil, destroy, devil, disadvantage, discommode, discompose, disserve, distemper, distress, disturb, do a mischief, do evil, do ill, do in, do up, do wrong, do wrong by, dog, doom, dragoon, encircle, encompass, enervate, envelop, envenom, exasperate, exercise, exhaust, fag, fag out, fash, fatigue, flag, foray, frazzle, fret, get, get into trouble, gnaw, gripe, harm, harry, haunt, heckle, hector, hex, hound, huff, hunt, hurt, impair, inconvenience, infect, injure, intimidate, invest, irk, irritate, jade, jinx, knock out, knock up, lay siege to, maltreat, maraud, menace, miff, mistreat, molest, nag, needle, nettle, nudzh, oppress, outrage, overfatigue, overstrain, overtire, overweary, pain, peeve, perplex, persecute, perturb, pester, pick at, pick on, pique, plague, play havoc with, play hob with, pluck the beard, poison, pollute, poop, poop out, pother, prejudice, prostrate, provoke, pursue, put out, put to it, puzzle, ride, rile, roil, ruffle, savage, scathe, soften up, strain, stress, surround, systematically terrorize, taint, tease, terrorize, threaten, tire, tire out, tire to death, torment, torture, trouble, try, try the patience, tucker, tweak the nose, use up, vex, victimize, violate, weaken, wear, wear down, wear on, wear out, weary, wilt, wind, worry, wound, wreak havoc on, wrong
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