Stalking and Harassment
What is Stalking and Harassment?
Stalking and harassment are separate offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, but there are some similarities in how they may be perpetrated.
Stalking and harassment both involve a pattern of unwanted and unwarranted behaviour by someone towards another person. The pattern of behaviour (two or more incidents) may cause the victim to feel harassed, alarmed, distressed or fearful that violence might be used against them.
Stalking and harassment can have serious impacts to a person’s health (physical and / or mental), their social life and their employment.
Stalking and harassment can occur between:
- Current or ex partners, or family members (domestic abuse)
- Someone known to the victim (friend, neighbour, work colleague, minor acquaintance)
- Strangers (no relationship or acquaintance with the victim)
Victims may be targeted due to their race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or religion.
Men and women can be victims and perpetrators of stalking and harassment; however, national statistics show that women are disproportionately affected by stalking.
Children and young people can be victims of stalking and harassment. There are Special Measures that can be offered to help children and young people give their evidence to the police and at Court.
Young people can also be perpetrators of stalking and harassment. West Yorkshire Police work with a range of partners to address youth crime, including where young people commit stalking and harassment offences.
Harassment might include:
- Antisocial behaviour
- Bullying at school or in the workplace
- Bullying via the internet
- Sending abusive letters or text messages
- Making unwanted or offensive phone calls
Harassment may be linked to a particular issue or grievance (e.g. a dispute with a neighbour or acquaintance).
Sexual harassment is unlawful, as a form of discrimination, under the Equality Act 2010. The Act says it is sexual harassment if the unwanted behaviour:
- Violates a person’s dignity
- Creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment (this includes the digital environment, online)
Some examples of sexual harassment would include:
- Sexual comments, insults, jokes or gestures
- Staring or leering at a person’s body
- Unwanted sexual communications (e.g. emails, texts, DMs)
- Sharing sexual photos or videos
- Groping and touching
- Someone exposing themselves
- Pressuring a person to do sexual things or offering them something in exchange for sex
Some of these are also criminal sexual offences. If you would like more information about how to report a sexual assault or rape, or information about the support available, please click here.
Stalking can be perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim (for example, an ex-partner or acquaintance) or someone unknown. A victim may not be aware of the full extent of someone’s stalking behaviour.
There are different reasons for why someone might stalk another person. Whatever the reason, there are often certain common characteristics:
Fixation – a focus on the victim.
Obsessive – using significant time and/ or resources to carry out the stalking behaviour.
Unwanted – the actions and behaviour are unwanted by the victim.
Repetitive – the unwanted behaviour has happened more than once.
The law does not give an exact definition of what behaviours amount to stalking, but does highlight certain behaviours and actions specifically:
- Following a person
- Contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means
- Watching or spying on a person by any means
- Writing or posting about a person
- Identity theft (including writing/ posting something about a person whilst pretending to be them)
- Monitoring a person’s use of the internet, e-mails or social media
- Loitering in a public or private place
- Interfering with or damaging a person’s property
Who Can Help?
Reporting to West Yorkshire Police
- You should report any incidents of stalking or harassment to the police by calling 101 or using our online contact methods
- In an emergency, when there is a crime in progress or a danger to life, always dial 999.
We use nationally recognised tools to assess risk in stalking and harassment cases. This helps us to share information with other departments in West Yorkshire Police and with our partner agencies. Some specialist stalking victim support agencies have tools available on their websites for you to self-assess.
What If I Don’t Want to Go To Court?
Even if someone reports stalking or harassment to the police, they may not wish to support a prosecution or go to court. They may only wish for the police to warn the perpetrator or give ‘words of advice’. In general, only people who have given a formal statement can be summoned to court to give evidence.
Please be aware that West Yorkshire Police’s policy is not to give words of advice or written warnings in stalking cases. It doesn’t resolve the issue and rarely stops the behaviour.
We may still refer an investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service for charging advice, particularly in high-risk cases.
If you are frightened about giving evidence in open court, or are particularly vulnerable, you may be entitled to access Special Measures. These are steps the courts can offer to make the process of giving evidence feel less worrying. Children and young people under 18 are normally entitled to Special Measures because of their age.
We will also consider whether to apply for a Stalking Protection Order in order to protect the victim and others from a stalking perpetrator. This can be applied for without a victim’s consent.
Not Sure Whether to Report?
West Yorkshire Police encourages you to report all incidents of stalking and harassment. We also recognise that some people may not be ready to report for a number of reasons.
If you are unsure whether to report an incident, consider seeking advice from one of the specialist support services below.
A stalker is unlikely to stop their behaviour without some form of intervention. Getting the police involved earlier will help us and our partners work more effectively to safeguard you and intervene with the perpetrator.
If you are thinking of reporting on behalf of another person, it is important to remember that reporting to the police may escalate the risk to the victim; if possible, tell them that you are reporting so that they can be vigilant.
Whether or not you have reported stalking to the police, you can still access support and advice from our partner agencies.
For Stalking and Harassment related to Domestic Abuse (family / partner / ex-partner):
West Yorkshire - Victim Support
0300 303 1971 (local Victim Assessment Referral Centre)
0808 168 9111 (National Helpline)
For Stalking and Harassment involving an acquaintance (non-intimate), colleague or stranger:
Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service
Paladin – National Stalking Advocacy Service
020 3866 4107
Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworkers (ISACs)
Victim Support and Paladin have trained ISACs, who can offer specialist support and advice to victims of stalking. They will help liaise between the victim and the police throughout the investigation and support the victim at court. Victims can access support from an ISAC even if they haven’t reported to the police yet.
There are specially-trained ISACs to work with young people (aged 16 and above) who have been victims of stalking.
Suzy Lamplugh Trust and The National Stalking Helpline
National Stalking Helpline - 0808 802 0300
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is a national organisation that can offer help and support to victims of stalking. You may find their Am I Being Stalked? - Suzy Lamplugh Trust online self-assessment tool useful.
Stalking or harassment is a repetitive pattern of unwanted behaviour. Keeping a record of incidents and what impact they had can significantly assist an investigation. Even if you are not ready to report to the police yet, keeping a log will assist if you later decide to report.
You should also:
- Keep letters and/ or parcels as evidence, handling them as little as possible
- Keep copies of e-mails, text and social media messages
- Keep a record of telephone numbers and audio-record conversations if you can
- Tell trusted friends, family and professionals (e.g. your doctor) what is happening
- Consider discussing with your employer so they can help keep you safe
- Keep any video or photographic evidence of your stalker
Please do not put yourself or others at any undue risk in order to gather evidence.
Keeping Yourself Safe
The intention of the following suggestions is to keep victims safe, particularly whilst any investigation is ongoing, and support them to make informed choices about their safety.
Stalking usually involves a perpetrator feeling a sense of control over someone else. Interfering with that sense of control (e.g. by blocking the perpetrator’s calls or changing daily routines) may cause the perpetrator to escalate their behaviour in order to find new ways to access their victim, increasing the risk. Blocking a perpetrator may cause evidence to be lost.
If you do decide to take steps to manage the perpetrator’s access to you, please be vigilant and report any new concerns. You may wish to discuss your options with an ISAC or other specialist stalking service before taking any actions.
- Take a mobile with you when you go out and ensure it is charged
- Carry a personal attack alarm and learn how to use it
- Do not carry anything that is meant for use as a weapon
- Ask friends/ family to go with you whenever possible
- Let someone know what your plans are (destination, route, planned time of arrival)
- Discuss a safety plan with your employer to keep you safe at work
- Discuss a safety plan with other regular places you visit (e.g. your child’s school)
- Review your mobile phone and social media privacy settings using the North East Business Resilience Centre's Digital Safety eBook (PDF)**
- Check out our Crime Prevention Advice pages
**This PDF is kindly hosted on the Alice Ruggles Trust website and as such may not be subject to the same accessibility standards as documents hosted on this website.
Stalking Protection Orders
Under the Stalking Protection Act 2019, the police may apply to Magistrates’ Courts for a Stalking Protection Order (SPO) against someone who is known to be (or alleged to be) carrying out acts of stalking.
SPOs can place restrictions (e.g. not to enter a particular area) and/ or positive requirements (e.g. to engage in an intervention programme) on the person subject to the order.
The ‘full’ order is made for a minimum of two years and can remain in place for a fixed period or indefinitely. Interim (temporary) orders can be applied for in certain situations.
A person subject to a SPO is required to notify the police of their address, details and provide their fingerprints and photographs. A marker will also be placed on the Police National Computer.
Even though a SPO is a civil order, breaching the order or associated notification requirements without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence. The maximum sentence for breaching a SPO is five years’ imprisonment and/ or a fine.
If You Are Stalking or Harassing Someone
Stalking and harassment are criminal offences. If you are stalking or harassing someone, you may be arrested and interviewed as part of the investigation. If charged and convicted, the maximum sentence is ten years’ imprisonment and a fine. You may also be made subject to a Stalking Protection Order or Restraining Order.
A conversation with your GP or similar professional may be a helpful first step if you are concerned about your behaviour towards others. You might also wish to speak to the West Yorkshire Liaison and Diversion service.
Myths and Realities
“Stalking is romantic – you should be glad of the attention.”
Stalking involves unwanted, unwarranted, repetitive contact that has significant negative impacts on a person’s health and wellbeing.
“It will stop if the police just have a word with him.”
Generally, stalkers have become fixated and obsessed with their victim. It is unlikely that they will stop unless formal action is taken. Some perpetrators are so fixated and obsessed that they may continue their behaviour even if this puts them at risk of being sent to prison.
“I’ll just block her and it will stop.”
Blocking a stalker or restricting their access to a victim may end up increasing the risk to the victim. The perpetrator may look for other ways to access the victim. Victims should discuss their options with a specialist support service and the police to make informed choices and maximise their safety.
“I’m not in danger. It was just a few messages and he turned up outside my house a couple of times. There wasn’t even any violence.”
The risk posed by stalking perpetrators can be significant. A victim may not always know the full extent of a perpetrator’s stalking behaviour. There doesn’t need to be physical contact or assault for a perpetrator’s behaviour to be classed as stalking. A perpetrator may begin with seemingly low-level behaviours, which escalate into something more serious. There have been a number of people in the UK who have been seriously harmed or killed by the person stalking them.
Page last reviewed April 2023