This article is written by Anvita Bhardwaj, a student pursuing B.A. LL.B. from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. In this article, the legality of verbal assault has been discussed. It entails a detailed explanation of what verbal assault is, the conditions required to prove it, and the defenses provided against it, among other aspects.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Suppose you get into an altercation and the person starts to threaten you. The person claims that he will torture you, maim your limbs, take a gun, and empty it into your skull. This is known as “verbal assault.” We are well aware that verbal abuse is unethical and immoral. In this article, we will answer the question, “Is verbal assault illegal in the US?” 

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What is verbal assault

The term “verbal assault” refers to the use of offensive language directed at a person that is likely to enrage a reasonable person (for example: excessive taunting or teasing, bullying, or other verbal harassment); a bomb threat (or any similar threat) directed at a school building, other slanders; or the threat of an immediate harmful or offensive touching, coupled with an apparent immediate ability to commit the same.  

Unless the context or related circumstances around the statements indicate that they are a threat, words alone do not constitute criminal harassment.

Types of verbal assault 

Domestic violence 

Verbal assault towards a partner may include harassment from: 

  • the spouse;
  • a domestic partner;
  • a separated partner or spouse;
  • a potential or actual dater or an ex; or, 
  • close relatives (like parents, aunts, uncles, and others)

Domestic abuse frequently involves physical assault. However, it is also possible for verbal abuse, harassment, or threats to damage property to qualify as domestic abuse.

Workplace harassment 

Verbal assault at work may take the following forms:

  • Yelling;
  • Using vulgar, offensive, or insulting language; or,
  • Using offensive language against a victim because of their ethnicity, nationality, or membership in another protected class

In some cases, an employer may be held accountable. For instance, if an employee is unable to perform their job due to ongoing harassment, the employer could be held accountable if they failed to take action to stop the offending worker.

Is verbal assault illegal in the US

The crime of “verbal assault” does not exist. Threatening violence or bodily injury, however, is illegal.

The victim has the right to press charges of assault or battery against you if you make a threat of physical violence or carry it out. In rare circumstances, even if you do not physically damage anyone, the threat of violence may be sufficient to trigger criminal proceedings.

Threatening physical harm or violence is illegal.

If you threaten or use physical force against the victim, they may file assault or battery charges against you. Even if you don’t really hurt somebody, the threat of violence could be enough to get you charged with a crime. The charge is increased in severity since any verbal threat may be used to demonstrate malicious intent.

Any verbal threat has the potential to be used against the victim or as a warning. Threats of violence alone are enough to get you jailed in cases of verbal abuse. In order to effectively combat the abuser, find the keywords that have been used in the assault and use them. If the abuser is accused, arrested, or loses certain rights, they may be punished. This directive may be issued as an order of protection.


There are often a few criteria that must be established in order for a claim of verbal assault to be merited by a lawyer or the wounded party. The first item typically entails the deliberate use of derogatory, insulting, or offensive language. These might be anything from obscene to repulsive. As such, offensive language must be outrageous and unreasonable for the intended audience. The perpetrator of the conduct should have been aware that verbally abusing the victim would have some form of adverse effect, at the very least resulting in an illness. The injured party must have experienced emotional or psychological stress as a result of the words said to him or her in the final component.

To build a strong and compelling argument, a few conditions must be met: 

  • The act should be intentional and performed with conscious intent at the top of the list. 
  • A dictionary of insulting, abusive, and offensive words makes up the second element, which is abusive and offensive language. 
  • The sufferer has endured colossal scale devastation as the final factor to be taken into account. 

If any reference is made with the intention to injure, numerous additional penalties will also be levied. Another important consideration is that neither party should engage in communication that is claimed to be a type of verbal abuse; otherwise, the claim to bring a case would be dismissed. A victim with a damaged mindset has typically gone through the abuse process alone. 

What is considered abusive language in a verbal assault case

It’s crucial to know what constitutes abusive language when the court is deciding whether the abuse was severe enough to award damages for harm. In these proceedings, the words uttered have importance. Verbal threats are equivalent to the possibility of assault when they are used in conjunction with this kind of abuse. The afflicted person can think that they are in danger of being hurt. Other phrases that degrade the target are deemed offensive. It has been decided that racial and sexual slurs qualify as grounds for a claim. There are also other utterances that raise scandalous issues.

When one party is the target of verbal abuse, that person is typically the only one who suffers psychological or emotional harm as a result of the experience. However, there might be no claim if both parties have been equally harsh. In most cases, only one party is allowed to sue the other. However, when the jury or judge can see the evidence, it does support the case. A bodily manifestation of the injuries or illness reveals to all parties how the sufferer has suffered and justifies the need for a claim for compensation. 

Elements of verbal assault 

The laws of a state determine the criteria and conditions needed to establish assault. However, it is generally accepted that verbal threats are not consistently viewed as an assault.

A verbal threat is a declaration made to another person that the speaker will do something to the recipient that will result in loss, harm, or punishment. Even though this term seems quite similar to the definition of assault, it is likely not an assault to just shout threatening remarks at another person.

A verbal threat, however, might turn into an actual assault in some circumstances. For instance, if someone threatens another person by saying they are going to hit them, those statements usually won’t be considered an attack on their own. However, it can be considered a verbal assault if the speaker is swinging a baseball bat while reciting these phrases.

In essence, a verbal threat turns into a criminal act when:

  1. Threatening the listener or the listener’s family with damage or death;
  2. The threat from the speaker is clear and specific; or,
  3. The speaker makes the threat either orally, in writing, or through electronic correspondence, and the listener has a reasonable basis for believing that the speaker will carry it out (e.g., email, text message, etc.).

A person may file charges for verbal threats when all of these conditions are satisfied and it seems from the circumstances that the threat is serious. This can be done by the person who was threatened by calling the police and requesting that they submit an incident report. The police will then look into it further. A local prosecutor will review the report and decide whether to file criminal charges against the suspect if there is sufficient evidence.

Defenses against a verbal assault case

No threat of imminent danger 

Remember that there must be “a reasonable apprehension of impending danger” for any  circumstance to qualify as an assault under the law. As a result, it makes no difference whether a victim of an assault may safely flee from danger after the attack. As soon as they become aware that they could be hurt or wounded, the assault starts.

No malicious intent

Imagine that a birthday party is being held without a theme. Two of the friends decide to attend as a joke, arrive with weapons and terrifying masks, and start to threaten the person whose birthday it is. Here, there is no malicious intent, and if there is no malicious intent, chances are less that you would be liable for assault. 


As previously stated, if the person who initiated the verbal assault retaliates with verbal assault, no case can be made against the person who initiated the verbal assault. 

Difference between verbal assault and verbal abuse

The phrase “verbal assault” is often very vague. To qualify as a verbal assault, a situation must meet certain criteria. Verbal abuse is frequently mentioned when individuals discuss verbal assault.

In a personal, familial, or professional connection, two people may say things to one another that would be seen as verbal abuse. In verbal abuse, the victim may be shamed or treated poorly. Except when a person is threatened with harm, it is not regarded as an assault.

When someone is accused of verbal assault, the prosecution will attempt to show that they had every intention of carrying out the threat or, at the very least, that the victim had a reasonable basis for believing the threat was serious. They must also show that the alleged assaulter may realistically carry out their threat.


Suing for verbal harassment on its own can be difficult, even though in some situations, words can inflict a considerable amount of pain and trauma. However, in rare situations, verbal abuse alone may be sufficient to file a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, there is no set standard for determining when verbal harassment warrants legal action. However, you might be able to file a lawsuit if you can demonstrate the following:

  • Your verbal assault was done on purpose by the offender, who used derogatory or abusive language.
  • The offender ought to have realized that their verbal assault would greatly distress you.
  • You experienced psychological or emotional harm as a result of the verbal abuse.

However, you would typically need to show that the offender actually intended to damage someone in order to establish a legal case against them. If you are the victim of abusive language at work, you may also be able to sue for racial and sexual slurs. The next step would be to demonstrate that the harassment was motivated by one of your protected characteristics, such as age, race, or religion etc.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you be sued for verbal assault? 

Regardless of whether the assault led to criminal charges, the victim of harassment or defamation has the right to sue the offender in civil court. If they have proof of the verbal assault or there are witnesses who witnessed it, they may be able to file a lawsuit.

How does a lawyer prove a case for verbal assault? 

Proving verbal abuse is challenging. Prosecutors, however, may use a variety of evidence, including written documents and tape-recorded conversions, to support their case. If someone threatens to harm someone in a social media post, their threat may be used as proof if they really do harm to the target. A video of someone making threats on social media may occasionally be posted by a third party and used as proof.


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