Stalking is defined as:
"two or more incidents (causing distress, fear or alarm) of obscene or threatening unwanted letters or phone calls, waiting or loitering around home or workplace, following or watching".
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was introduced because there was limited legal protection for victims who were upset and frightened by a series of disturbing incidents which fell short of being illegal. ‘Stalking’ was not specifically mentioned in the Act at that time, but it was designed to, and does cover many forms of harassment, including stalking and cyber stalking.
By November 2012, the government introduced two new laws - specific to stalking offences which fall under the Harassment Act 1997. This new legislation not only gives the police greater powers of entry to a stalker’s property, so that evidence can be gained to corroborate a victim’s case but also supports a victim who is experiencing lesser or more serious stalking behaviour.
The biggest legislative change has been in stalking which causes serious alarm or distress. A person is guilty of an offence if it is perceived that they are using threatening words, show abusive behaviour or act in a threatening manner.
The difference between stalking and harassment
Harassment might include such things as:
- antisocial behaviour;
- bullying at school or in the workplace;
- cyber stalking on the internet;
- sending abusive text messages;
- sending unwanted gifts.
Stalking is an aggravated form of harassment and includes things like:
- persistently following someone:
- repeatedly going uninvited to their home;
- monitoring someone’s use of the internet, email or other form of electronic communication;
- loitering somewhere frequented by the person;
- interfering with their property;
- watching or spying on someone;
- identity theft.
“The offence of stalking or harassment using the internet and electronic means.”
Common forms of cyber stalking include sending repeated unwanted messages, ordering goods and services on the victim’s behalf, publishing private information of a damaging or embarrassing nature, spreading false information, identity theft, encouraging others to harass the victim and launching attacks against the victim’s computer.
Harassment can take place on the internet and through the misuse of email or social networking messages. This can include the use of social networking sites and chat rooms.
Currently the law is slightly different in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but stalking behaviour is against the law across the UK.
Facts about stalking
- Stalking is one of the most common types of intimate violence
- The most common perpetrator in incidents of stalking was a partner or ex-partner
- 18.1% of women aged 16-59 and 9.4% of men aged 16-59 say they have experienced stalking.
There are many forms of harassment ranging from unwanted attention from somebody seeking a romantic relationship to violent predatory behaviour.
Types of stalker
- The rejected – who pursue ex-partners, in the hope of reconciliation, for vengeance or both
- Intimacy seekers – who stalk someone they believe that they love and who they think will reciprocate
- Incompetent suitors – who inappropriately intrude on someone, usually seeking a date or brief sexual encounter
- The resentful – who pursue victims to take out revenge
- The predatory – whose stalking forms part of sexual offending.
It is important that stalking behaviour is identified early and acted upon but this relies upon the victim to trust their instincts and recognise when someone’s behaviour is being intrusive or threatening and is causing them to live in fear. But most importantly, the victim needs to act quickly by contacting the police so that action can be taken against their stalker. If there is a pattern of harassing behaviour, police officers will always seek to apprehend the stalker and hold them to account for their actions.
It is not necessary to warn the stalker in the first instance or give them words of advice. Harassment is a crime which is best tackled through prosecution. Cheshire Constabulary will seek to support you throughout this process in partnership with our multi-agency partners.
Stalkers can cause their victims serious and lasting physical and mental trauma. Findings from a study carried out by the Network for Surviving Stalking found the following:
- A third of victims said they had lost their job, relationship or been forced to move because of the stalking
- 92% reported physical effects and 98% reported emotional effects ranging from sleep disturbances, anger and distrust to depression, self-harm and suicide attempts
- Half of the victims had changed their telephone number, given up social activities and saw their performance at work worsen.
The most common forms of harassment are:
- Frequent, unwanted contact e.g. appearing at the home or workplace
- Telephone calls, text messages or other contact such as via the internet e.g. social networking sites
- Driving past the victim’s home or work
- Following or watching the victim
- Damaging the victim’s property
- Sending letters or unwanted gifts to the victim
- Burglary or robbery of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle or other
- Threats of harm to the victim and/or others associated with them (including sexual violence and threats to kill)
- Harassment of people associated with the victim e.g. family members, partner, work colleagues
- Physical and/or sexual assault of the victim and even murder.
Other forms of stalking behaviour can be:
- Breaking into victim’s home
- Abusing victim’s pets
- Threatening to harm children
- Identity theft.
Stalkers are not always known to the victim, but in the vast majority of cases there will be some association – either casual or intimate – between the victim and their stalker. In most cases, the victim and their stalker will previously have been in an intimate relationship.
- Do not engage with your stalker in any way – even if you are trying to ‘placate’ them
- Talk to neighbours, friends, colleagues or your manager about the harassment if you feel comfortable doing so. They may be able to help by collecting further evidence on your behalf or by putting protective measures in place
- Be aware of how much of your personal information is in the public domain and take steps to protect your data
- Above everything, trust your instincts.
Am I at risk?
If you’re not sure if what is happening to you is stalking then please take some time to look at the questions below:
- Are you very frightened?
- Has the person engaged in harassment before? (Involving you and/or anyone else)
- Has the person ever destroyed or vandalised your property?
- Has the person turned up at work or home more than three times per week?
- Has the person loitered around your home, workplace etc.?
- Has the person made any threats of physical or sexual violence?
- Has the person harassed any third party since the harassment began (e.g. friends, family, children, colleagues, partners or neighbours)?
- Has the person acted violently towards other people within the current stalking incidents?
- Has the person persuaded other people to help him/her (wittingly or unwittingly)?
- Is the person known to be abusing drugs and/or alcohol?
- Is the person known to have been abusive in the past (physical or psychological)?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above, this indicates you should take the person’s behaviour towards you very seriously and contact the police for support and advice.
If you’re frightened by someone’s behaviour towards you and feel you’re in danger, call 999 now.