Stalking and harassment
Stalking and harassment offences, warning signs of a stalker and actions you can take.
In England and Wales, there are 2 specific criminal offences of stalking and stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress, along with related police search powers. These provide extra protection for victims, highlight the serious impact stalking can have on their lives and help bring more perpetrators to justice.
Warning signs of a stalker
- They become demanding or controlling. They want to know who you are texting, emailing, what you are saying. They are suspicious, perhaps even paranoid.
- They are contacting you multiple times a day asking you to confirm where you are. They seem to know where you have been so you may suspect that they have put some geo location software on your phone or a tracker in your car.
- They start sending aggressive, abusive or threatening texts.
- They start to contact your friends and family trying to check up on you, get information about you or try to damage those relationships.
- They start to spread rumours or put abusive, embarrassing comments online, via social network and forums.
- They seem to know information that you haven’t told them or know what you do online, such as websites you’ve visited or people you’ve chatted or sent emails to.
- Your passwords stop working or keep changing.
- You find emails marked read that you haven’t read, or emails sent from your account that you haven’t sent.
- Money starts going missing from your online bank account or goods being bought via online stores you use.
- Information is deleted, such as friend’s contacts, computer files or emails.
- Set a secure password.
- Block the abuser and all their friends and family.
- Don't post too much information on your social media, use private messaging or text instead.
- Edit your photo albums to 'only me'.
- Go through each option on the privacy, account and profile settings and use the 'friends only' or 'only me' options.
- On social media 'how people can contact you', turn off all applications, disable public search and ask people not to tag you.
- Always, think before you post and never post anything relating to a court case you are involved in - before, during or after.
- Clear the history and cookies on your internet browser.
- Assume you have spyware on your computer and get some spyware removal and anti-spyware software.
- Once your computer is clean - change your email, passwords and security questions on all your accounts. You can get free password management software, so it is easy to manage a different password for each account.
- If you are leaving an abuser, turn off your phone or, if you can, take the battery out. Once you are safe, you need to make sure there is no tracking software on your phone.
- Set up your mobile so you have to put in a PIN before you use it.
- Buy and use mobile security software.
- Use a call blocker with 'white lists' that prevents anyone not in your address book from contacting your mobile - most mobile security software offers this feature.
- Turn off your location services and don't use location-based applications on your phone, such as 'check in' applications, or maps.
- Save and screenshot all texts and social media messages on your mobile phone. You could also photograph them so, if the phone gets lost, damaged or you run out of room in your text box, you have a separate record of them.
- If the stalker leaves a voicemail, make a recording of it. Mobile phone providers will erase it after a short while.
- Copy all harassing messages or photos you find online. Create a new document and paste the image in it - be sure to add the time and date of the conversation. Think carefully about the file name you give it.
- Create a harassment log. Write down the nature of each incident and how it made you feel. Each entry should be signed, timed and dated.
For more information about stalking, please visit the Stalking Helpline.
Legislative changes in relation to stalking and harassment came into effect on 25 November 2012.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 inserted provisions in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and introduced 2 new offences of stalking and a power of entry, with a warrant, for a summary offence.
Section 2A of the 1997 Act prohibits a person from pursuing a course of conduct that amounts to stalking.
Examples of stalking are following a person, contacting a person by any means, publishing a statement relating to or claiming to relate to a person, monitoring the use by a person of the internet or watching or spying on a person.
There is also a power of entry on warrant (application to justice of the peace), in relation to the offence of stalking - Section 2B.
A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine, not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.
Section 4A of the act prohibits a course of conduct relating to the offence of stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress.
There must be a course of conduct (on at least 2 occasions) that causes a person to fear that violence will be used against them, or causes another person serious alarm or distress, which has a substantial effect on their day to day activities.
This offence is triable in either the magistrates or crown court. A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or a fine, or both or, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both.
The police use a tool to enable them to gather additional information when assessing the risk in cases of stalking and harassment.