Going to Court

Online stalking

Learn what counts as stalking in Ohio, and when filing for a protection order may or may not help.

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Understanding the Basics

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Stalking is more than following you online.

In Ohio, "menacing by stalking" has to meet more than just a casual definition of stalking.

To meet the legal definition:

  • There must be a pattern. The person must knowingly engage in a “pattern of conduct” that makes you believe that they will hurt you physically or that causes you mental distress. A pattern of conduct generally involves 2 or more actions or incidents that are closely related in time.
  • The person must knowingly cause you mental distress or fear of physical harm. Mental distress can involve some type of mental condition that normally would require psychiatric treatment or mental health services (even if you never received treatment).
  • It’s more than just monitoring you online. The conduct can include messages or online behavior, but it’s more than just keeping tabs on you online. There has to be a pattern of behavior where the person knowingly makes you fear physical harm or causes mental distress.

For example, if your ex is monitoring everything you post online and leaving negative comments, it may not enough to be “menacing by stalking.” But if they’re using the Internet, GPS or other technology in a way that they know will cause you mental distress or fear of physical harm, it’s more likely to meet the definition.

If you believe someone is stalking you online, you can consider filing for a civil stalking protection order against them.

A protection order may help, but it has risks.

A protection order is an official document from a judge ordering an abuser to stop certain actions to help keep you safe.

If someone is stalking you, you generally can file for a civil stalking protection order. However:

  • It does not guarantee your safety. A protection order can be a tool to help you stay safe. But there may be times when a protection order is not the safest option and could even make the situation worse.
  • Use safety planning. Making a safety plan involves finding ways to help you stay safer. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has tips for creating a stalking safety plan. If the stalking is part of domestic violence or sexual violence, you may be able to get help from a domestic violence organization or rape crisis center. Go to "Local Government and Community Resources" on this page to find resources in your area.
  • A protection order is different from a criminal case or conviction. Getting a civil protection order against a stalker is different from the stalker being charged with a crime. (Criminal charges must be brought by the state and are handled differently.) There does not need to be a criminal case against the abuser for you to file for a civil protection order. But if either one of you is facing criminal charges, filing for a civil protection order could complicate the criminal case.

Learn more about civil stalking protection orders. To decide if getting a protection order is a good legal option for you, talk to a lawyer.

If you don’t know the person’s identity.

If you are being stalked online by someone who is anonymous, or you don’t know their identity:

  • It can be complicated. Filing for a civil protection order against someone whose identity you don’t know is complicated. You will need to speak with a lawyer to determine how a case could be filed and if a protection order could help. You also may want to file a report with the local police or sheriff’s office.
  • It’s hard to file against an anonymous person. Even if you have suspicions about who the person is, you generally need something that ties the behavior to a specific person to file for a civil stalking protection order. If the harassment is only happening online anonymously, you may not have enough to file for a protection order.

Report the behavior.

A civil protection order can’t help in every case, but there may be other steps you can take.

For example: 

  • Contact the service provider. If someone is anonymously sending you threats online, contact the service provider, such as the social media platform where the abuse is occurring. Abusive, harmful content likely violates the provider’s terms of service, and the provider may be able to shut down the account.
  • File a report with law enforcement. Report stalking incidents to law enforcement. They may not be able to file charges without information about who is behind the behavior, but filing a report may help law enforcement identity patterns and record the behavior.


  • Make a safety plan. Safety planning involves developing ways to help you stay safer. Advocates from a domestic violence organization may be able to help if the stalking is part of domestic violence. You also can find safety strategies from the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) and online safety recommendations from the Safety Net Project.
  • Be aware of what’s available online. If you’re sharing information on social media, assume someone will be able to see and follow all of it. If you don’t want that to happen, consider not posting the information or not making it public.
  • Limit personal information online. You may want to reduce the amount of your personal information that’s available online. That may involve removing your home address from public property records, searching your name online and asking websites to take down information about you. 
  • Use your phone’s security and privacy settings. Know how to change and turn off the location settings on your phone and apps. Do a factory reset on your phone if you think someone has installed apps or software without your knowledge or permission.
  • Protect your online accounts. Change your passwords and security questions if needed. Enable two-factor (or multi-factor) authorization on your accounts. 

This project was supported by Grant Nos. 2022-WF-VA1-8855 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Local Government and Community Resources

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