Stalking & harassment – advice for all
Stalking can be defined as persistent and unwanted attention where the victim feels pestered and harassed. There are many forms of harassment ranging from unwanted attention from somebody, seeking a romantic relationship, to violent predatory behaviour.
In November 2012, stalking became a named offence in England and Wales for the first time.
Greater Manchester Police has a host of advice on its website at www.gmp.police.uk
Sometimes stalkers are not 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. This is the most dangerous type of stalking situation.
It is important to remember that stalking is not a ‘one off’ crime. It is a series of incidents which when taken in isolation can appear trivial but when put together they become far more sinister. The challenge for the police service and other agencies is to protect victims by recognising the danger signs, by effective use of legislation and by effective and co-ordinated investigation.
Forms of harassment & stalking
- frequent, unwanted contact e.g. appearing at the home or workplace of the victim
- telephone calls, text messages or other contact such as via social networking
- driving past the victim’s home or work
- following or watching the victim
- sending letters or unwanted gifts to the victim
- damaging the victims property
- burglary or robbery of the victim’s home, workplace or vehicle
- 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.
Cyberstalking – online harassment and stalking
Cyber-stalkers can be either strangers or people known to their victim and there are many different motives. The more determined or obsessive stalkers become, the more likely they are to move from one online channel to another until their victim’s online presence is fully intruded upon. They commonly obtain information about a person via their online details of personal and financial affairs, relationships, social and work life and location.
Women’s Aid has produced advice and guides to help women and girls understand the risks and tools needed to protect themselves and stay safe on social media – find out more on their website at www.womensaid.org.uk/onlinesafety
Get Safe Online is the UK’s leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety. There are lots of useful tips for staying safe available on their website at www.getsafeonline.org/cyberstalking
What to do if you are a victim of stalking and harassment
Police will arrange a convenient time to meet you and take relevant details in order to give more specific safety advice to you. An officer will sit with you and discuss all the things that have been happening to you. It is important that you tell the officer everything that has happened, even if you think it may sound trivial or contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300
How you can help yourself
Tactics to stay safe and gather evidence include:
- take a mobile telephone with you when you go out
- carry a personal attack alarm and learn how to use it – do not carry anything that is meant for use as a weapon
- try to alter your daily routines, ask friends to go with you whenever possible, and always try to let someone know what your plans are
- keep a record of what happened, where, when every time you were followed, phoned, received post or e-mail
- the more details you have the better, how the offender looked or sounded, what they were wearing, the make, and number plate or colour of their car
- keep letters, and parcels as evidence; even if they contain frightening or upsetting messages, do not throw them away and handle them as little as possible
- if you recognise the handwriting, you can keep letters or parcels as evidence without having to open them
- keep copies of e-mails on disk and print out hard copies, do not delete the original
- making notes in a diary is a good idea – write the information down as soon as possible, when events are still fresh in your mind
- make sure you keep any stored messages (including text messages) or telephone numbers that you have received on your mobile phone and caller ID units
- use 1471 on the phone and write down details of calls received, including the time received, and the telephone numbers (even unanswered calls)
- tape record telephone conversations if you can and keep the tape
- contact your telephone company to see what action they can take against malicious callers or register with Telephone Preference Service to be removed from direct marketing lists
- tell your friends, neighbours and work colleagues about what is happening
- do not speak or engage with them in any way if they are seen taking photos as this may lead to a confrontation
- print pages of evidence from social networking sites and times messages were posted.
Avoiding unwanted calls:
- answer the phone by saying ‘hello’, not your name or number
- try to keep calm and not show emotion, many callers will give up if they don’t think they’re making an impression on you or your feelings
- use an answer machine to screen out calls and only talk to people you want to
- if the caller rings again, put the handset down on a table for a few minutes – the caller will think you’re listening
- after a few minutes replace the handset, you do not have to listen to what the caller has to say
- use 1471 on the phone and write down details of calls received, including the time received, and the telephone numbers (even unanswered calls).
If you know or find out who is stalking you:
- do not confront your stalker or even engage them in conversation
- do not, under any circumstances, agree to a meeting to talk about how you feel about them constantly bothering you
- do not respond in any way to calls, letters, or conversations – if you ignore the phone nine times and pick it up on the tenth, you will send the message that persistence pays; once they have your attention, they will be encouraged to carry on
- seek advice from the police, a solicitor or the National Stalking Helpline about what you should do.
Controlling or coercive behaviour
Like controlling or coercive behaviour, offences of stalking and harassment can involve a course of conduct or pattern of behaviour which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or which causes them serious alarm or distress to the extent it has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities. Indeed the behaviour displayed under each of these offences might be exactly the same.
The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been introduced specifically to capture abuse in an ongoing relationship where the parties are personally connected (as defined in section 76(2) of the Serious Crimes Act 2015).
Where there is an ongoing relationship then the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour should be considered. Stalking and harassment offences may be appropriate if the victim and the perpetrator were previously in a relationship but no longer live together. These offences can also be in relation to activity that takes place between people who do not know each other and may never even have met one another.
There may be instances where the relationship status of the victim and perpetrator change a number of times – it is the status of the relationship at the time the offending behaviour takes place which is relevant.
Find out more in our coercive control, controlling behaviour & psychological abuse resource.