Harassment and stalking
Understanding harassment and stalking
Harassment is when someone repeatedly behaves in a way that causes you alarm or distress, or makes you fear that they will be violent towards you. It could be:
- sending you texts, emails or voicemails or letters or gifts you don’t want
- making threats online or in person
- bullying you at work or at school
Stalking involves behaviour which is fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated (‘FOUR’). It could be when someone repeatedly follows you, spies on you or forces contact with you, including through social media. Stalking can also include unwanted contact from that person turning up at your home unannounced.
This behaviour can be very frightening and distressing, but there are lots of organisations that can help. Find support in your area.
Is it a crime?
Harassment and stalking are both criminal offences. But it’s sometimes hard to know when you’re being harassed or stalked. A single incident might not seem significant until you realise that it’s part of a pattern.
If you call your local police force, they can assess the situation and see what help they can give you, even if you aren’t ready to report the crime yet.
You can also start keeping a record of what’s happened and anything you’ve been sent. This will help demonstrate the number of incidents and the effect they’ve had on you.
If you report your harassment to the police, they will make sure you’re safe. This may include organising protection orders for you depending on your circumstances.
If the person harassing you has been prosecuted and convicted, the court can give them a restraining order. Restraining orders are helpful when you and the perpetrator know each other. They protect you from any future contact that could cause you further fear or distress. The court can also give a restraining order if the perpetrator is found not guilty, but where it’s clear that you still need protection.
Restraining orders usually last for 12 months but could be longer or indefinite in some circumstances. Breaching a restraining order is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
A non-molestation order may also apply to some cases of harassment. If you’re the victim of harassment and the perpetrator is someone you’re living with, in a relationship with, or a family member, you can ask the family court for a non-molestation order. The police won’t be involved unless the perpetrator breaches the order. In this case, the police can arrest the perpetrator and they could be charged, with a maximum penalty of up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
If you’re being stalked, the police may be able to apply for a stalking protection order to protect you. This could stop your stalker contacting you or make them change their behaviour.
After reporting harassment or stalking
If you’ve been persistently targeted, you’re entitled to extra help from the police, courts and victim services. This could include:
- arranging for a specialist support service to contact you
- letting you know within 1 working day what’s happening with the suspect – for example, if they’re being released on bail
- letting you know about special measures that could help you give evidence in court
You can read more about your rights in the Victims’ Code.
The extra support a court can provide to help vulnerable or intimidated witnesses give their best evidence. These measures could include putting screens around the witness box.
The Victims’ Code explains the rights that everyone can expect to receive as a victim of crime. Different versions are available, including leaflets, an easy-read booklet, and the full code in English and Welsh.
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