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Stalking and harassment

Stalking and Harassment are similar offences, however the term harassment is used to describe behaviour by a perpetrator which is repeated and unwanted by the victim and which causes the victim to have a negative reaction in terms of alarm or distress.

Although harassment is not specifically defined it can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contacts upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.

Stalking is now a specific offence in England and Wales

As of 25th November 2012 amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act have been made that makes stalking a specific offence in England and Wales for the first time. The amendments were made under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

What is stalking?

Stalking is not legally defined but the amendments include a list of example behaviours such as contacting/attempting to contact the victim, publishing statements or material about the victim, monitoring the victim (including online), loitering in a public or private place, interfering with property, watching or spying. This is a non exhaustive list which means that other behaviours, which are not described above may also be seen as stalking.

Can Stalking only be done by a stranger?

When many people hear the word stalking they still think of a stranger lurking in the shadows or a delusional fan following a celebrity. Whilst these cover some stalking scenarios they are by no means the majority. About 40% of people who contact the Helpline are being stalked by ex-intimates (i.e. ex partners) and a further third have had some sort of prior acquaintance with their victim; you may have dated, married or been a friend with your stalker. Just because you know/knew the stalker does not mean that the situation is your fault - it is still stalking and it is wrong.

Types of stalking behaviour

Taken in isolation behaviours might seem unremarkable. But in the particular circumstance and with repetition, they take on a more sinister meaning. The context and details of the behaviours and the underlying motivation are crucial to understanding the risks that the stalker poses to a victim.

Unwanted communications may include telephone calls, letters, emails, faxes, sms text messages, sending or leaving unsolicited materials/gifts, graffiti, and/or messages on social networking sites. Unwanted intrusions include following, waiting for, spying on, approaching, accosting and going to a person's home.

In addition to unwanted communication and intrusion, the stalker may engage in a number of associated behaviours including ordering or cancelling goods/services, making vexatious complaints (to legitimate bodies), cyber stalking, threats, property damage and violence.

What do we know about stalking?

  • According to the British Crime survey (2006), up to 1 in 5 citizens will experience stalking in the UK in their lifetime and approximately five million people experience stalking in any given year.

  • The majority of stalkers are known to their victims as ex-partners or acquaintances, but some people are stalked by complete strangers.
    Around 80% of stalkers are male. However, stalkers and their victims can be of either gender.

  • Stalkers come from all backgrounds and do not form one 'type'. Stalkers are not homogenous and the motivation for stalking can vary
    Understanding the motivation is important when assessing the risks the stalker may pose.

  • Many victims will experience multiple, repeated stalking behaviours before they report this to the police.

  • Stalking is life changing. It is frequently injurious to victims' psychological, physical and social functioning, irrespective of whether they are physically assaulted. The majority of stalking victims experience symptoms of traumatic stress and other forms of psychological, social and vocational damage.

Warning signs

A number of warning signs have been identified as being associated with serious violence and murder through researching many cases.

Please be aware of the warning signs, whether you are being stalked, know someone who is or if you are a professional working with victims.

  1. Is the victim very frightened?

  2. Is there a history of domestic abuse or harassment?

  3. Has (name of stalker(s)...) destroyed or vandalised any property?

  4. Has (name of stalker(s)...) turned up unannounced or uninvited more than three times per week?

  5. Has (...) followed the victim or loitered around their home, workplace etc?

  6. Has (...) made any threats of physical or sexual violence?

  7. Has (...) harassed any third party since the harassment began? (e.g. friends, colleagues, partners, neighbours)

  8. Has (...) acted out violently towards anyone else within the stalking incident?

  9. Has (...) engaged other people to help him/her? (wittingly it unwittingly)

  10. Has (...) had problems in the past year with drugs (prescription or other), alcohol or mental health leading to problems in leading a normal life?

  11. Has (...) ever threatened or attempted suicide?

  12. Do you know if (...) has ever been in trouble with the police or has a criminal history for violence or anything else?

If you think you have become a victim of stalking or harassment, tell your family and friends and contact us on 101 or if it's an emergency, always call 999.  

Support services

Suzy Lamplugh Trust
0808 802 0300

Paladin - National Stalking Advocacy Agency
020 3866 4107