It is difficult to define stalking because stalkers use so many different methods to harass and intimidate. Stalking occurs when a person or a group of people adopt a pattern of behaviour that leaves another person feeling fearful, harassed, or anxious. Examples of the sorts of behaviours used by stalkers include:
- Following or watching someone.
- Regularly standing outside a building visited often by the person being stalked, such as a home, school, or place of work.
- Verbal abuse or public humiliation.
- Initiating unwanted contact with the person being stalked.
- Sending unwanted, unsolicited or threatening messages. Messages may be in the form of letters, text messages, emails, or be in some other form.
- Sending unwanted or unsolicited gifts. Such gifts may seem to be innocuous or desirable to others, such as flowers.
- Making threats against the person being stalked, or their family, friends, pets or property.
- Publishing material or comments about the person, for example on the Internet.
- Damaging the property of the person being stalked, or the property of someone known to them.
- Physical assault.
- Rape or sexual assault.
Stalkers often engage in a variety of these behaviours. A stalker’s actions sometimes are not themselves frightening or abusive but become frightening or abusive because of the pattern of behaviour they are part of, or because their meaning or context makes them threatening or abusive.
People of all ages and genders can be stalked, and people of all ages and genders can be stalkers.
Stalking can also be a form of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
Myths about stalking
This is false. Many people are stalked by people with whom they have had some kind of romantic or sexual relationship, friendship, or acquaintance.
This is false. Although people often fail to take stalking seriously, stalking is a crime and can be reported to the police. It is not flattering to have someone make you feel scared, anxious, or intimidated. You should not have to put up with behaviour that makes you feel this way just because some people interpret the stalker’s motivations as benign.
This is false. Just because a stalker is not violent does not mean his behaviour is harmless. Any kind of stalking can cause severe psychological distress. All kinds of stalking can cause depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, paranoia, agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This is false. Stalking can happen for a wide variety of time periods. A report produced by Dr. Lorraine Sheridan and Network for Surviving Stalking found that stalking could last from between 1 month to 43 years. The report also found that the more emotionally invested the stalker is in his relationship with the person being stalked, the longer the stalking tends to last.
This is false. The stalker is responsible for his actions. It does not matter what their feelings are for the person being stalked. Nor does it matter what relationship the stalker once had with the person being stalked, or how the person being stalked reacts to the stalking.
The impact of stalking
The experience of being stalked can be extremely frightening and have a profound impact on someone’s life, whether or not it involves violence. Its effects can include:
- Feeling alone and isolated.
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
- Feeling afraid to leave one’s house or be outside.
- Finding it difficult to form relationships and trust other people.
- Physical health problems, particularly if the stalker is physically or sexually violent.
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping.
- Feeling guilty or somehow responsible.
- Self-harming or feeling suicidal.
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Stalking is a crime and can be reported to the police. Two incidents of harassment is enough to demonstrate a “course of conduct” which can count as stalking under the law. Many forces now have an officer who acts as a single point of contact (SPOC) for stalking problems.
If you decide that you want to report stalking to the police, it may be helpful to have a written record of each occasion on which the stalker has made you feel anxious or afraid. It may also be helpful to have as much evidence as possible of the stalker’s actions, such as audio recordings, films or pictures, along with copies of emails, text messages, screenshots and similar.
If you do not want to involve the police, you can attempt to use the civil courts to obtain an ‘injunction’ – an order from a court – that tells the stalker to stop performing the behaviours that constituted the harassment. The police can then arrest the stalker if they breach the terms of such an order.
The National Stalking Helpline and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust have more information about reporting stalking to the police and about getting an injunction.