Stalking and harassment occurs not only in a domestic abuse environment, people can be stalked by strangers or acquaintances too.
Stalking is a specific type of harassment and it’s often described as a pattern of unwanted, fixated or obsessive behaviours which are intrusive. Stalking causes fear of violence or serious alarm and distress. If a person is following, watching or spying on someone or forcing contact with them through social media it may be considered as stalking.
Harassment offences involve a ‘course of conduct,’ or repeated actions, which could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person. This often includes repeated attempts to impose unwanted contact or communication on someone.
Harassment and stalking relate to similar but different offences that may cause victims or their families and loved ones physical, psychological and emotional harm.
Offenders can stalk or harass a person in a number of different ways which may include:
• A comment or threat in person or online, via social media or online chat rooms
• Damaging someone else’s property
• Maliciously and falsely reporting someone to the police without any wrongdoing
• Any acts of violence
• Standing outside someone’s house or driving past
• Sending text messages, answer phone messages letters or email
If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent and unwanted attention, that’s making you/them feel fearful, distressed, harassed or anxious, then you/they are a victim of stalking.
If you/someone you know are experiencing harassment or stalking it’s important to:
• Keep a diary of events
• Write down and keep all information about any other witnesses who can confirm what happened
• Don’t be tempted to throw away evidence.
• Save copies of letters, text messages or emails
• Make sure to write down the time, date, location and details of when the incident occurred and what happened
• Make family members, friends and trusted neighbours aware of what’s happening so they know to keep a look out
• Check the privacy settings on any social networking sites and limit the amount of information you put on
• Be aware of geo-location and tagging on social media or social networking sites and ensure that this is disabled on your smartphone
If you feel you’re personal safety is at risk it’s important to report stalking or harassment to the police as quickly as possible, the sooner you inform the police the easier it is for them to start building a case.
Take a close look at your home security and make sure that every door and window in your home is locked and all the keys are accounted for.
Change your daily regular routines, try to vary your movements. The less predictable you are the harder it becomes for anyone to track you down.
Try not to be home alone, you’ll feel less vulnerable and more comfortable in the company of your friends or family members, also it will limit the opportunities for anyone to make advances.
There are a multitude of reasons why someone becomes drawn to stalking and every situation is different, but whatever the motives are a person as who is causing you distress, always aim to keep all contact to an absolute minimum.
Any form of communication risks fuelling their conviction and that their attentions are justified.
If you attempt to reason with them it could make the situation much worse and a lot more dangerous, the most effective thing you can do is notify the police and let them handle it.
If at any time you think someone s following you always head for a public place immediately and call the police. You won’t be wasting police time, even if it turns out to be a false alarm.
If you answer your phone to a call that you may find a little creepy try not to sound scared, startled or alarmed. They want a reaction. Don’t give them one! Leave the phone to one side for a few minutes before hanging up it and this way the caller gets no encouragement or reaction from you. Keep all correspondence / presents / cards or other and try not to touch them too much as it could be useful as evidence.
STALKING AND HARASSMENT – DEFINITIONS, THE LAW & HOW TO GET HELP
Harassment and stalking are often used as interchangeable terms. However, they relate to similar but different offences that can cause victims, their families and loved ones physical, psychological and emotional harm.
Offenders can stalk or harass their victims in a number of different ways, including:
a text, answer phone message, letter or email
a comment or threat in person or online (e.g. social media or online chat rooms)
standing outside someone’s house or driving past it
an act of violence
damage to someone else’s property
maliciously and falsely reporting someone to the police without any wrongdoing
The behaviour must happen on more than one occasion by the same person or group to be considered harassment; however, it can be different types of behaviour on each occasion. For example, a single threatening comment on social media is not harassment. Two comments or one comment and a text message may be considered harassment.
Section 2A: Stalking – harassment which involves a course of conduct that amounts to stalking
Section 4A: Stalking which can be committed two ways, namely
Stalking involving fear of violence
Stalking involving serious alarm or distress
Although stalking isn’t legally defined, section 2A (3) of the PHA 1997 lists a number of behaviours associated with stalking, including:
following a person
contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means
monitoring a person’s use of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication
loitering in any place (public or private)
interfering with any property in the possession of a person
watching or spying on a person
Furthermore, the new offence outlined in section 4A states that the defendant’s behaviour has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s usual day-to-day activities. This may include:
the victim changing their route to work, work patterns or employment
the victim arranging for someone else to pick up children from school
the victim putting additional security measures in place at home
the victim changing the way they socialise or stopping altogether
The new offences focus on the cumulative effect of stalking on the victim instead of looking at specific incidents in isolation.
Ultimately, it’s up to the courts to decide if something is harassment or stalking under the Act. Using the same set of behaviours, the courts will consider whether a reasonable person would interpret them as harassment.
Online Harassment and Cyberstalking
The advancement of technology has certainly made everyday life easier, but it’s also opened up new opportunities for stalking and harassment.
Cyberstalkers are driven by the same intention as non-digital stalkers which is to threaten or embarrass their victims. The difference is that they rely on technology such as social media, instant messaging and emails to do this. Everything on the internet can be used by cyberstalkers to make unwanted contact with their victims.
There are different types of online stalking, including:
Virtually visiting victims via Google Maps Street View
Looking at geotags to track a person’s location
It’s important to try and protect yourself against cyberstalkers by limiting the amount of information that’s readily accessible about you online. Essentially, you need to test your ‘googleability’ by running a simple search of yourself on the search engine.
In terms of social media, you should review your privacy settings and limit visibility of your account so that only your friends and followers can see your updates, personal information and photos.
What Can The Police Do About Harassment?
If you feel as if you’re being harassed or stalked, you can report it to the police or apply for an injunction through civil court. It is a criminal offence for someone to harass you or to put you in fear of violence.
To get in contact with the police, either visit your local police station, or call 101 – the non-emergency number – and make an appointment.
After listening to the description of your abuser’s behaviour, the police might decide not to take any further legal action. Alternatively, they might issue the abuser with an informal harassment warning. These are also known as harassment warning notices or police information notices (PINs).
This warning informs the accused abuser about the law in relation to harassment. If the police receive similar reports in the future, they might take further action against them. The abuser might be asked to sign the warning. This is not an admission of harassment; however, it confirms that they have received the warning and it can be used against them if harassing behaviour is reported to the police again.
If the abuser isn’t charged by the police, you can apply for an injunction through a County Court under the PHA 1997 or under the Family Law Act 1996 Part IV.
An injunction can forbid an abuser from doing certain things such as contacting you directly or indirectly, going to your home address, place of work or children’s school.
If you’re associated to your abuser, you might prefer to apply to the Family Court for a domestic violence injunction called a non-molestation order. There is no court fee for this application and legal aid is available.
You are associated to your abuser if you and your abuser:
are or were ever married, engaged or in a civil partnership
are or were living together (including as flatmates)
are relatives (whether by blood, marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation)
have a child together or have a parental responsibility for the same child
are or were in an intimate personal relationship of significant duration
Alternatively, you can apply for a harassment injunction against any person who has harassed or stalked you, or put you in fear of violence by deliberately causing you distress on two or more occasions.
The orders must be reasonable and relevant to the harassment you’ve experience. An injunction might include orders such as:
The defendant (i.e. abuser) is forbidden from coming with 200 metres of the home of the claimant.
What if my injunction is ignored or not followed by my abuser?
If the abuser breaks the injunction, you have two options:
Report the breach to the police
Make an application to return to the County Court where the injunction was made to enforce it
If your abuser is found guilty of breaking the injunction they may be sent to prison for up to 5 years, fined, or both.
If the abuser is charged by the police and the case goes to the criminal courts, the court may issue a restraining order to protect you. A restraining order can be made even if the abuser is not found guilty.
Similar to an injunction, a restraining order prohibits your abuser from doing certain things; in addition, breaking a restraining order is a criminal offence. As a result of this, you cannot apply for one yourself.
How Can You Protect Yourself Against Harassment?
Say no – tell the person once that their behaviour is inappropriate and that you don’t want any contact. Do not get into a dialogue with the abuser.
Record what’s happening – keep any texts, emails or online comments as well as notes, including time and dates, of the harassing behaviour. Record any encounters with your abuser, such as what they say on phone calls, their actions and any relevant vehicle registration numbers. It’s also useful to document how this impacts you and your feelings.
Contact the police – harassment and stalking is illegal, so if you feel threatened or uncomfortable, report it to the police.
Confide in people – tell family, friends, neighbours and colleagues that you’re being harassed. They can also keep records of sightings and suspicious incidents as well as improve your safety when they’re with you.
Improve personal safety – always make sure that your mobile phone has sufficient battery in case you need to call the police in an emergency. Alternatively, you can invest in a personal safety alarm which has a built-in SOS button.
If you are ever in immediate danger, call the police on 999 or press the SOS button on your personal safety device.
Report a stalker
Contact the police if you’re being stalked – you have a right to feel safe in your home and workplace.
Stalking is illegal and can include being followed or constantly harassed by another person – for example being sent unwanted emails
Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger.