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#MeToo phenomenon could create unexpected legal problems

Communication today is at a different level than it was just 20 years ago. Where once we picked up the phone and gave someone a call, or took pen in hand and left a note, we now pick up the phone and text the note. The speed and frequency with which we send messages can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on which end of the line you happen to be.

Something making the things a little dicey these days is the increasing general awareness about sexual harassment. Social network trends such as the #MeToo movement and others are bringing once-private interactions into the light. On one hand, that's a good thing. On the other, according to some experts it's leading to some growth in anxiety and confusion.

Young men and women in college are already sensitive about making social gaffes, but in the climate, that's developed, the pressure is greater. According to some who study social interaction and psychology, some males are, "just swearing off women." They're afraid of accidentally doing something wrong and having the moment communicated by instant message. In a worst-case scenario, someone could wind up facing criminal charges, the negative effects of which can last a life time.

In North Carolina, authorities can level stalking charges based on a relatively light file of evidence. The relevant statute has language that specifies what may be construed as stalking, but there is room for interpretations to differ.

For example, calling or sending a single message to a recipient is not illegal. But doing it again, even once, after being told by the recipient to stop, could bring a charge. If you meet by chance too often in places you both frequent, stalking could be alleged.

What escalates such things from happenstance or misunderstanding to a criminal charge is if the other person reasonably feels threatened by the encounters. A specific law on cyberstalking makes it a crime to follow a pattern of alleged threatening or malicious behavior through electronic means.

Penalties for convictions of such crimes can be serious, of course, but just being charged has consequences that can be difficult to quantify. Because of the potential complications, speaking with an experienced defense attorney immediately becomes essential.

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