Stalking and harassment
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What is the definition of stalking and harassment?
There is no one definition for either stalking or harassment. Stalking and harassment are similar but different forms of VAWG and so have traditionally been considered together in legislation although new stalking offences were created in 2012 to bring stalking within the ambit of the harassment legislation.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) considers harassment to be “repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contact upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.”
The Crime Survey for England and Wales defines stalking as: “One or more incidents (causing distress, fear or alarm) of receiving obscene or threatening unwanted letters, e-mails, text messages or phone calls, having had obscene or threatening information about them placed on the internet, waiting or loitering around home or workplace, following or watching, or interfering with or damaging personal property by any person, including a partner or family member”
What behaviours constitute stalking and harassment?
Harassment in the context of VAWG includes:
- antisocial behaviour
- bullying at school or in the workplace
- cyber stalking on the internet
- sending abusive text messages
- sending unwanted gifts.
Stalking is considered as an aggravated form of harassment and includes:
- 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
- cyber stalking
- overt threats.
Stalking has a strong correlation with murders of women by their current or former ex-partner with studies showing that almost 70 per cent of murder or attempted murder victims were also victims of stalking whilst in the relationship.
What is the impact of stalking on victims?
The impact of stalking on victims is varied and depends on the individual circumstances of the person being stalked. Impacts can be wide ranging and affect a person’s physical and mental health as well as impacting on their work and social lives. These include:
- Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting
- Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
- Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, others or pets will be harmed
- Feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment
- Depression (all symptoms related to depression)
- Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia (frightened to leave the house, never feeling safe)
- Difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things
- Inability to sleep – nightmares, ruminating
- Irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts
- Emotional numbing
- Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder e.g. hypervigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled
- Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
- Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive
- Self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications
- Suicide thoughts and/or suicide attempts
- Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression
- Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eating
- Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions e.g. asthma, gastric ulcers and psoriasis
- Shortness of breath
- Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Physical injury due to not concentrating or being under the influence of substances
- Heart palpitations and sweating
Work and school
- Deteriorating school/work performance
- Increased sick leave
- Leaving a job or being sacked
- Changing career
- Dropping out of school – poorer education and career opportunities
- Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships
- Problems with physical and emotional intimacy
- Avoidance of usual activities e.g., going to the gym, going out
- Isolation through trying to protect others, feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms
- Others withdrawing from the victim because they don’t believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victim’s mental state or as a direct consequence of third-party victimisation
- Victim moving to a new area, changing their phone number, name or even their appearance.
- Loss of wages due to sick leave, leaving job or changing career
- Costs incurred through legal fees
- Expense of increasing home and personal security
- Cost involved in repairing property damage
- Seeking psychological counselling and medical treatment
- Cost involved in breaking leases on rented properties
- Expense of relocation.
Is Stalking and Harassment illegal?
As of November 2012, amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act under Section 111 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, made stalking a criminal offence. This means that any stalking after the November 25, 2012 will be dealt with under the new legislation and any offences prior to that date will be dealt with as ‘harassment’ under Section 2 and 4.
Section 2A stalking
- To prove a Section 2A it needs to be shown that a perpetrator pursued a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and that the particular harassment can be described as stalking behaviour.
- Stalking is not legally defined but the amendments include a list of example behaviours which are following, contacting/attempting to contact, 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 behaviour which is not described above may also be seen as stalking
- A course of conduct is two or more incidents as it is for harassment.
Section 4A stalking
- Section 4A stalking involves the fear of violence or serious alarm or distress
- Serious alarm and distress is not defined but can include behaviour which causes the victim to suffer emotional or psychological trauma or have to change the way they live their life
There is also a route for civil remedy for stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. An injunction can be obtained and damages for anxiety and financial loss applied for. Breach of an injunction is considered either as a criminal offence (whereby the Police and CPS can charge the person stalking with a maximum sentence of five years) or contempt of court (whereby the victim can apply to the civil court with a maximum sentence of two years).
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, prohibits harassment. It was always intended to tackle stalking as well according to the Government, but the Act was designed to tackle any form of persistent behaviour that causes someone alarm or distress.
Section 1 of the Act provides that:
- A person must not pursue a course of conduct— (a) which amounts to harassment of another, and (b) which he/she knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.
Section 7 provides that:
- ‘references to harassment include alarming the person or causing the person distress’ and that this ‘course of conduct’ must have happened on at least two occasions.
Under the 1997 Act there are two key offences:
Section 2: deals with conduct that amounts to harassment of another
Section 4: covers situations where the victims fears that violence would be used against them.
If you are in immediate risk call 999 or 112 (from a mobile) for the Police
The National Stalking Helpline
Tel: 0800 802 0300
Website: The National Stalking Helpline
National Stalking Advocacy Service
Tel: 0207 840 8960
Network for Surviving Stalking
Website: Network for Surviving Stalking.