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What to do if you are being stalked or harassed

Woman being followed - stalker

With the recent release of the critically acclaimed Netflix serial “You” the issue of stalking is back at the forefront of people’s minds and as such, has become a firm social media talking point.

The series follows the story of a man, Joe, who on the face of it seems charming and harmless, but in fact turns out to be a dangerous and obsessive stalker.

Stalking is accepted in UK law as being a course of conduct that may amount to a range of offences including that of Harassment. Stalking and indeed Harassment can cause the victim and those close to them a great deal of emotional and psychological distress.

Here is what constitutes stalking and harassment in the UK;

Harassment is a term used to cover offences contained with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. It is generally accepted as a course of conduct that causes the victim alarm or distress.

Although harassment is not specifically defined within the Act, it can include repeated attempts to impose communications, be that in person or via social media platforms, upon a victim or others connected with the victim in a manner that would be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.

Stalking is generally accepted as being a course of conduct which may amount to harassment or indeed, can be an offence within itself. Whilst there is also no strict legal definition for stalking the

Protection from Harassment Act 1997 further sets out a number of acts and omissions which may be associated with stalking. For example, a person spying on, watching or forcing contact with the victim in person or indeed via social media.

Two examples of stalking or harassment may include;

  1. An ex-partner persistently making attempts to contact you on social media, causing you to feel threatened and/or scared.
  2. An acquaintance who follows, watches and/or tracks you, be that in person or online, causing you to feel threatened or harassed.

A number of examples can be found online, but it should be noted that there is not an exhaustive list contained within the legislation and cases will be considered on their individual details.

What to do if you feel you are being harassed?

In the first instance, someone who feels they are being harassed should ensure they tell someone that they trust and explain that they feel threatened or scared due to this behaviour. Please see the bottom of this blog for details of the National Stalking Helpline.

The first port of call is to report the matter to the police. The police have a range of powers to reduce the risk attached to the offences, including the obvious powers of arrest which can then lead to custodial sentences and/or the imposition of a Restraining Order.

Such an Order should be drafted with a view to protecting the victim by imposing one or more conditions on the perpetrator (the suspected stalker or person harassing the victim). It then becomes a criminal offence for the perpetrator to do anything which they are prohibited from doing under the Order.

In many situations, the police may be unable to take any further action at the time of reporting, as such there are a number of alternative options to protect the victim;

If the perpetrator is associated to the victim the most preferable option may be to apply to the Family Court for a Non-Molestation Order. This type of injunction can prevent the perpetrator from contacting the victim or coming within a specified distance.

There is no court fee for such an application and Legal Aid is available if the victim is financially eligible.

You are associated to the perpetrator if one of the following apply:

  • You are or were married/civil partners/in an intimate relationship of significant duration
  • Are relatives
  • Have a child together or have parental responsibility for the same child
  • Are or were living together

Alternatively if the perpetrator and the victim are not associated (ie: don’t meet any of the above points) the victim may still apply for a civil injunction prohibiting their abuser from contacting/approaching them. This will usually attract a court fee of £308.

In both of these types of Order, it is a criminal offence if the perpetrator breaches it and can be reported to the police. Alternatively, the matter can be taken back to the respective Court and an enforcement can be sought.

*The National Stalking Helpline: 0808 802 0300

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