Stalking and harassment

What is 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.

Stalking and harassment includes behaviour which happens two or more times directed at or towards someone by another person, that causes the victim to feel alarmed or distressed or to fear that violence might be used against them.

It can take place between:

  • current or ex partners, or family members as part of domestic abuse;
  • someone who is known personally to the victim, such as a neighbour, work colleague or friend, sometimes where that acquaintance is very slight.
  • strangers, for example the stalking or harassment of someone in the public eye or where someone is targeted, for example, because of their race, disability, sexual orientation or religion.

Harassment might include such things as:

  • antisocial behaviour;
  • bullying at school or in the workplace;
  • cyber stalking on the internet;
  • sending abusive text messages;
  • sending unwanted gifts.

Stalking is an aggravated form of harassment and includes things like:

  • persistently following someone:
  • repeatedly going uninvited to their home;
  • monitoring someone’s use of the internet, email or other form of electronic communication;
  • loitering somewhere frequented by the person;
  • interfering with their property;
  • watching or spying on someone;
  • identity theft.

Stalking and harassment can have serious consequences on someone’s physical and mental health.

How to protect yourself

If you are experiencing stalking or harassment, there are steps you can take to help deal with this type of behaviour.

Personal Safety

  • Take a mobile telephone with you when you go out.
  • Carry a personal attack alarm and learn how to use it.  Do not carry anything that is meant for use as a weapon.
  • Try to alter your daily routines.  Ask friends to go with you whenever possible, and always try to let someone know what your plans are.
  • Contact your telephone company to see what action they can take against malicious callers.  Register with Telephone Preference Service to have your details removed from direct marketing lists.
  • Review your security settings on social networks
  • You can find more personal safety advice on our personal safety page or at the National Stalking Helpline website

Keep records

  • Keep a record of what happened, where and when, every time you were followed, phoned, received post or e-mail.  Write the information down as soon as possible, when events are still fresh in your mind.  
  • The more details you have the better. How did the offender look or sound? What were they wearing? What is the make and number plate or colour of their car?
  • Keep letters, and parcels as evidence. Even if they contain frightening or upsetting messages, do not throw them away and handle them as little as possible.  
  • Keep copies of e-mails, text messages and social network messages. Print copies if you can. 
  • Keep a record of telephone numbers. Tape-record telephone conversations if you can.
  • Tell your friends, neighbours and work colleagues about what is happening.
  • Try to get photographic or video evidence of your stalker (especially if they are someone already warned by the police not to come near you).

Unwanted calls

  • Answer the phone by saying 'hello', not your name or number.
  • Try to keep calm and not show emotion. Many callers will give up if they don't think that they are making an impression on you or your feelings.
  • Use an answer machine to screen out calls and only talk to people you want to.
  • If the caller rings again, put the handset down on a table for a few minutes - the caller will think you're listening. After a few minutes replace the handset, you do not have to listen to what the caller has to say.
  • Use 1471 and write down details of calls received, including the time received and telephone numbers (even unanswered calls).

If you know, or find out, who is stalking you

  • Do not confront your stalker or engage them in conversation.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, agree to meet with them to talk about how you feel about them bothering you.
  • Do not respond in any way to calls, letters, or conversations. If you ignore the phone nine times and pick it up on the tenth, you will send the message that persistence pays. Once they have your attention, they will be encouraged to carry on.
  • Seek advice from the police, a solicitor or the National Stalking Helpline about what you should do.

The law

Since 1997, there has been a specific law on harassment. The Protection from Harassment Act, 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’.

Stalking and harassment are crimes under sections 2 and 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and should be reported to the police.

If you think you are being harassed or stalked you can seek an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act. If the police charge someone with a crime and that person appears at court, then the court can make a restraining order under the Act, even if the person is found not guilty.

About the law

About stalking

External Links

The National Stalking Helpline :

Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service :

Suzy Lamplugh Trust


Page last reviewed December 2019