Stalking and Harassment
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.
The British Crime Survey (2006) suggests up to five million people experience stalking or harassment in any given year and that many victims will suffer up to 100 incidents before talking to the police.
The most common forms of harassment are:
- Frequent, unwanted contact e.g. appearing at the home or workplace of the victim,
- Telephone calls, text messages or other contact such as via the internet (i.e. social networking sites)
- 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, vehicle or other
- 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
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 isn’t a ‘one off’ crime. It’s 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.
Since 1997, there has been a specific law on harassment, The Protection from Harassment Act, which can be used in both the Civil and Criminal Courts. It makes it unlawful to ‘pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which the defendant knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another’. The Act says that conduct amounts to harassment if a reasonable person in possession of the information would think that it amounted to harassment.
Stalking or harassing behaviour often breaks other laws too.
Many harassment offences can be tried in a magistrates’ court and are punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment, a fine up to £5,000 or both.
More serious offences, which can be tried in either magistrates’ or Crown courts, are punishable by up to five years imprisonment or a fine up to £5,000 or both.
Courts can also impose a restraining order, which bans the defendant from doing certain things for a certain period of time. Since September 2009, courts have been able to make a restraining order even if the defendant is found not guilty and regardless of the offence for which they are being tried.
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