Stalking is a type of harassment that is defined by Victim Support as “persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered and harassed. It includes behaviour that happens two or more times, directed at or towards you by another person, which causes you to feel alarmed or distressed or to fear that violence might be used against you.”
Stalking could include following someone, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with someone by any means, including social media. The effect of these actions is that it leaves the victim feeling permanently anxious and feeling that they have to be careful; it curtails the victims freedom. Some acts of stalking may appear innocent enough when taken in isolation, such as bumping into someone in a supermarket, but when there is a regular pattern of the same behaviour, it becomes distressing and alarming.
The term harassment is used to describe incidents that cause alarm or distress and are usually repeated and may increase in number or seriousness. A perpetrator could harass just an individual or they may harass people connected to that individual knowing it would cause additional distress to the intended victim.
Yes, both stalking and harassment are criminal offences in the UK. Stalking became a criminal offence in 2012 and if prosecuted could carry a maximum prison sentence of five years. Harassment has been a recognised crime since 1997 when the Protection from Harassment Act was brought in.
Stalking and harassment is classed as domestic abuse when the perpetrator is a partner, ex-partner or family member of the victim. The common misconception about stalking in particular is that it is perpetrated by a stranger. In the majority of cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim, often being an ex-partner.
Guidance from the Police is to keep a diary of what is happening when, where and by whom, Save all texts, emails, letters and communications, and, only if it is safe to do so, take photographs or video of your stalker. Then contact the Police, or a stalking and harassment support service who can advise you on how to proceed. For advice on stalking, you can call the National Stalking helpline on 0808 802 0300.